Front Page Titles (by Subject) SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE. (October, 1838.) - Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. 3
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SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE. (October, 1838.) - Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. 3 
Critical and Historical Essays contributed to the Edinburgh Review, 5th ed. in 3 vols. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1848). Vol. 3.
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SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE. (October, 1838.)
Memoirs of the Life, Works, and Correspondence of Sir William Temple. By the Right Hon. Thomas Peregrine Courtenay. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1836.
Mr. Courtenay has long been well known to politicians as an industrious and useful official man, and as an upright and consistent member of Parliament. He has been one of the most moderate, and, at the same time, one of the least pliant members of the Conservative party. His conduct has, indeed, on some questions, been so Whiggish, that both those who applauded and those who condemned it have questioned his claim to be considered as a Tory. But his Toryism, such as it is, he has held fast through all changes of fortune and fashion; and he has at last retired from public life, leaving behind him, to the best of our belief, no personal enemy, and carrying with him the respect and good will of many who strongly dissent from his opinions.
This book, the fruit of Mr. Courtenay’s leisure, is introduced by a preface in which he informs us that the assistance furnished to him from various quarters “has taught him the superiority of literature to politics for developing the kindlier feelings, and conducing to an agreeable life.” We are truly glad that Mr. Courtenay is so well satisfied with his new employment, and we heartily congratulate him on having been driven by events to make an exchange which, advantageous as it is, few people make while they can avoid it. He has little reason, in our opinion, to envy any of those who are still engaged in a pursuit from which, at most, they can only expect that, by relinquishing liberal studies and social pleasures, by passing nights without sleep and summers without one glimpse of the beauty of nature, they may attain that laborious, that invidious, that closely watched slavery which is mocked with the name of power.
The volumes before us are fairly entitled to the praise of diligence, care, good sense, and impartiality; and these qualities are sufficient to make a book valuable, but not quite sufficient to make it readable. Mr. Courtenay has not sufficiently studied the arts of selection and compression. The information with which he furnishes us, must still, we apprehend, be considered as so much raw material. To manufacturers it will be highly useful; but it is not yet in such a form that it can be enjoyed by the idle consumer. To drop metaphor, we are afraid that this work will be less acceptable to those who read for the sake of reading, than to those who read in order to write.
We cannot help adding, though we are extremely unwilling to quarrel with Mr. Courtenay about politics, that the book would not be at all the worse if it contained fewer snarls against the Whigs of the present day. Not only are these passages out of place in a historical work, but some of them are intrinsically such that they would become the editor of a thirdrate party newspaper better than a gentleman of Mr. Courtenay’s talents and knowledge. For example, we are told that “it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to those who are acquainted with history, but suppressed by the new Whigs, that the liberal politicians of the seventeenth century and the greater part of the eighteenth, never extended their liberality to the native Irish, or the professors of the ancient religion.” What schoolboy of fourteen is ignorant of this remarkable circumstance? What Whig, new or old, was ever such an idiot as to think that it could be suppressed? Really we might as well say that it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to people well read in history, but carefully suppressed by the Clergy of the Established Church, that in the fifteenth century England was in communion with Rome. We are tempted to make some remarks on another passage, which seems to be the peroration of a speech intended to have been spoken against the Reform Bill: but we forbear.
We doubt whether it will be found that the memory of Sir William Temple owes much to Mr. Courtenay’s researches. Temple is one of those men whom the world has agreed to praise highly without knowing much about them, and who are therefore more likely to lose than to gain by a close examination. Yet he is not without fair pretensions to the most honourable place among the statesmen of his time. A few of them equalled or surpassed him in talents; but they were men of no good repute for honesty. A few may be named whose patriotism was purer, nobler, and more disinterested than his; but they were men of no eminent ability. Morally, he was above Shaftesbury; intellectually, he was above Russell.
To say of a man that he occupied a high position in times of misgovernment, of corruption, of civil and religious faction, that nevertheless he contracted no great stain and bore no part in any great crime, that he won the esteem of a profligate Court and of a turbulent people, without being guilty of any disgraceful subserviency to either, seems to be very high praise; and all this may with truth be said of Temple.
Yet Temple is not a man to our taste. A temper not naturally good, but under strict command; a constant regard to decorum; a rare caution in playing that mixed game of skill and hazard, human life; a disposition to be content with small and certain winnings rather than to go on doubling the stake; these seem to us to be the most remarkable features of his character. This sort of moderation, when united, as in him it was, with very considerable abilities, is, under ordinary circumstances, scarcely to be distinguished from the highest and purest integrity, and yet may be perfectly compatible with laxity of principle, with coldness of heart, and with the most intense selfishness. Temple, we fear, had not sufficient warmth and elevation of sentiment to deserve the name of a virtuous man. He did not betray or oppress his country: nay, he rendered considerable services to her; but he risked nothing for her. No temptation which either the King or the Opposition could hold out ever induced him to come forward as the supporter either of arbitrary or of factious measures. But he was most careful not to give offence by strenuously opposing such measures. He never put himself prominently before the public eye, except at conjunctures when he was almost certain to gain, and could not possibly lose, at conjunctures when the interest of the State, the views of the Court, and the passions of the multitude, all appeared for an instant to coincide. By judiciously availing himself of several of these rare moments, he succeeded in establishing a high character for wisdom and patriotism. When the favourable crisis was passed, he never risked the reputation which he had won. He avoided the great offices of State with a caution almost pusillanimous, and confined himself to quiet and secluded departments of public business, in which he could enjoy moderate but certain advantages without incurring envy. If the circumstances of the country became such that it was impossible to take any part in politics without some danger, he retired to his library and his orchard, and, while the nation groaned under oppression, or resounded with tumult and with the din of civil arms, amused himself by writing memoirs and tying up apricots. His political career bore some resemblance to the military career of Louis the Fourteenth. Louis, lest his royal dignity should be compromised by failure, never repaired to a siege, till it had been reported to him by the most skilful officers in his service, that nothing could prevent the fall of the place. When this was ascertained, the monarch, in his helmet and cuirass, appeared among the tents, held councils of war, dictated the capitulation, received the keys, and then returned to Versailles to hear his flatterers repeat that Turenne had been beaten at Mariendal, that Condé had been forced to raise the siege of Arras, and that the only warrior whose glory had never been obscured by a single check was Louis the Great. Yet Condé and Turenne will always be considered as captains of a very different order from the invincible Louis; and we must own that many statesmen who have committed great faults, appear to us to be deserving of more esteem than the faultless Temple. For in truth his faultlessness is chiefly to be ascribed to his extreme dread of all responsibility, to his determination rather to leave his country in a scrape than to run any chance of being in a scrape himself. He seems to have been averse from danger; and it must be admitted that the dangers to which a public man was exposed, in those days of conflicting tyranny and sedition, were of the most serious kind. He could not bear discomfort, bodily or mental. His lamentations when, in the course of his diplomatic journies, he was put a little out of his way, and forced, in the vulgar phrase, to rough it, are quite amusing. He talks of riding a day or two on a bad Westphalian road, of sleeping on straw for one night, of travelling in winter when the snow lay on the ground, as if he had gone on an expedition to the North Pole or to the source of the Nile. This kind of valetudinarian effeminacy, this habit of coddling himself, appears in all parts of his conduct. He loved fame, but not with the love of an exalted and generous mind. He loved it as an end, not at all as a means; as a personal luxury, not at all as an instrument of advantage to others. He scraped it together and treasured it up with a timid and niggardly thrift; and never employed the hoard in any enterprise, however virtuous and useful, in which there was hazard of losing one particle. No wonder if such a person did little or nothing which deserves positive blame. But much more than this may justly be demanded of a man possessed of such abilities, and placed in such a situation. Had Temple been brought before Dante’s infernal tribunal, he would not have been condemned to the deeper recesses of the abyss. He would not have been boiled with Dundee in the crimson pool of Bulicame, or hurled with Danby into the seething pitch of Malebolge, or congealed with Churchill in the eternal ice of Giudecca; but he would perhaps have been placed in the dark vestibule next to the shade of that inglorious pontiff —
“Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto.”
Of course a man is not bound to be a politician any more than he is bound to be a soldier; and there are perfectly honourable ways of quitting both politics and the military profession. But neither in the one way of life, nor in the other, is any man entitled to take all the sweet and leave all the sour. A man who belongs to the army only in time of peace, who appears at reviews in Hyde Park, escorts the Sovereign with the utmost valour and fidelity to and from the House of Lords, and retires as soon as he thinks it likely that he may be ordered on an expedition, is justly thought to have disgraced himself. Some portion of the censure due to such a holiday-soldier may justly fall on the mere holiday-politician, who flinches from his duties as soon as those duties become difficult and disagreeable, that is to say, as soon as it becomes peculiarly important that he should resolutely perform them.
But though we are far indeed from considering Temple as a perfect statesman, though we place him below many statesmen who have committed very great errors, we cannot deny that, when compared with his contemporaries, he makes a highly respectable appearance. The reaction which followed the victory of the popular party over Charles the First, had produced a hurtful effect on the national character; and this effect was most discernible in the classes and in the places which had been most strongly excited by the recent revolution. The deterioration was greater in London than in the country, and was greatest of all in the courtly and official circles. Almost all that remained of what had been good and noble in the Cavaliers and Roundheads of 1642, was now to be found in the middling orders. The principles and feelings which prompted the Grand Remonstrance were still strong among the sturdy yeomen, and the decent God-fearing merchants. The spirit of Derby and Capel still glowed in many sequestered manorhouses; but among those political leaders who, at the time of the Restoration, were still young or in the vigour of manhood, there was neither a Southampton nor a Vane, neither a Falkland nor a Hampden. The pure, fervent, and constant loyalty which, in the preceding reign, had remained unshaken on fields of disastrous battle, in foreign garrets and cellars, and at the bar of the High Court of Justice, was scarcely to be found among the rising courtiers. As little, or still less, could the new chiefs of parties lay claim to the great qualities of the statesmen who had stood at the head of the Long Parliament. Hampden, Pym, Vane, Cromwell, are discriminated from the ablest politicians of the succeeding generation, by all the strong lineaments which distinguish the men who produce revolutions from the men whom revolutions produce. The leader in a great change, the man who stirs up a reposing community, and overthrows a deeply-rooted system, may be a very depraved man; but he can scarcely be destitute of some moral qualities which extort even from enemies a reluctant admiration, fixedness of purpose, intensity of will, enthusiasm, which is not the less fierce or persevering because it is sometimes disguised under the semblance of composure, and which bears down before it the force of circumstances and the opposition of reluctant minds. These qualities, variously combined with all sorts of virtues and vices, may be found, we think, in most of the authors of great civil and religious movements, in Cæsar, in Mahomet, in Hildebrand, in Dominic, in Luther, in Robespierre; and these qualities were found, in no scanty measure, among the chiefs of the party which opposed Charles the First. The character of the men whose minds are formed in the midst of the confusion which follows a great revolution is generally very different. Heat, the natural philosophers tell us, produces rarefaction of the air; and rarefaction of the air produces cold. So zeal makes revolutions; and revolutions make men zealous for nothing. The politicians of whom we speak, whatever may be their natural capacity or courage, are almost always characterised by a peculiar levity, a peculiar inconstancy, an easy, apathetic way of looking at the most solemn questions, a willingness to leave the direction of their course to fortune and popular opinion, a notion that one public cause is nearly as good as another, and a firm conviction that it is much better to be the hireling of the worst cause than to be a martyr to the best.
This was most strikingly the case with the English statesmen of the generation which followed the Restoration. They had neither the enthusiasm of the Cavalier nor the enthusiasm of the Republican. They had been early emancipated from the dominion of old usages and feelings; yet they had not acquired a strong passion for innovation. Accustomed to see old establishments shaking, falling, lying in ruins all around them, accustomed to live under a succession of constitutions of which the average duration was about a twelvemonth, they had no religious reverence for prescription, nothing of that frame of mind which naturally springs from the habitual contemplation of immemorial antiquity and immovable stability. Accustomed, on the other hand, to see change after change welcomed with eager hope and ending in disappointment, to see shame and confusion of face follow the extravagant hopes and predictions of rash and fanatical innovators, they had learned to look on professions of public spirit, and on schemes of reform, with distrust and contempt. They sometimes talked the language of devoted subjects, sometimes that of ardent lovers of their country. But their secret creed seems to have been, that loyalty was one great delusion, and patriotism another. If they really entertained any predilection for the monarchical or for the popular part of the constitution, for episcopacy or for presbyterianism, that predilection was feeble and languid, and instead of overcoming, as in the times of their fathers, the dread of exile, confiscation, and death, was rarely of power to resist the slightest impulse of selfish ambition or of selfish fear. Such was the texture of the presbyterianism of Lauderdale, and of the speculative republicanism of Halifax. The sense of political honour seemed to be extinct. With the great mass of mankind, the test of integrity in a public man is consistency. This test, though very defective, is perhaps the best that any, except very acute or very near observers, are capable of applying; and does undoubtedly enable the people to form an estimate of the characters of the great, which, on the whole, approximates to correctness. But during the latter part of the seventeenth century, inconsistency had necessarily ceased to be a disgrace; and a man was no more taunted with it, than he is taunted with being black at Timbuctoo. Nobody was ashamed of avowing what was common between him and the whole nation. In the short space of about seven years, the supreme power had been held by the Long Parliament, by a Council of Officers, by Barebones’ Parliament, by a Council of Officers again, by a Protector according to the Instrument of Government, by a Protector according to the Humble Petition and Advice, by the Long Parliament again, by a third Council of Officers, by the Long Parliament a third time, by the Convention, and by the King. In such times, consistency is so inconvenient to a man who affects it, and to all who are connected with him, that it ceases to be regarded as a virtue, and is considered as impracticable obstinacy and idle scrupulosity. Indeed, in such times, a good citizen may be bound in duty to serve a succession of Governments. Blake did so in one profession and Hale in another; and the conduct of both has been approved by posterity. But it is clear that when inconsistency with respect to the most important public questions has ceased to be a reproach, inconsistency with respect to questions of minor importance is not likely to be regarded as dishonourable. In a country in which many very honest people had, within the space of a few months, supported the government of the Protector, that of the Rump, and that of the King, a man was not likely to be ashamed of abandoning his party for a place, or of voting for a bill which he had opposed.
The public men of the times which followed the Restoration were by no means deficient in courage or ability; and some kinds of talent appear to have been developed amongst them to a remarkable, we might almost say, to a morbid and unnatural degree. Neither Theramenes in ancient, nor Talleyrand in modern times, had a finer perception of all the peculiarities of character, and of all the indications of coming change, than some of our countrymen in that age. Their power of reading things of high import, in signs which to others were invisible or unintelligible, resembled magic. But the curse of Reuben was upon them all: “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.”
This character is susceptible of innumerable modifications, according to the innumerable varieties of intellect and temper in which it may be found. Men of unquiet minds and violent ambition followed a fearfully eccentric course, darted wildly from one extreme to another, served and betrayed all parties in turn, showed their unblushing foreheads alternately in the van of the most corrupt administrations and of the most factious oppositions, were privy to the most guilty mysteries, first of the Cabal, and then of the Rye-House Plot, abjured their religion to win their sovereign’s favour while they were secretly planning his overthrow, shrived themselves to Jesuits with letters in cipher from the Prince of Orange in their pockets, corresponded with the Hague whilst in office under James, and began to correspond with St. Germain’s as soon as they had kissed hands for office under William. But Temple was not one of these. He was not destitute of ambition. But his was not one of those souls in which unsatisfied ambition anticipates the tortures of hell, gnaws like the worm which dieth not, and burns like the fire which is not quenched. His principle was to make sure of safety and comfort, and to let greatness come if it would. It came: he enjoyed it: and, in the very first moment in which it could no longer be enjoyed without danger and vexation, he contentedly let it go. He was not exempt, we think, from the prevailing political immorality. His mind took the contagion, but took it ad modum recipientis, in a form so mild that an undiscerning judge might doubt whether it were indeed the same fierce pestilence that was raging all around. The malady partook of the constitutional languor of the patient. The general corruption, mitigated by his calm and unadventurous temperament, showed itself in omissions and desertions, not in positive crimes; and his inactivity, though sometimes timorous and selfish, becomes respectable when compared with the malevolent and perfidious restlessness of Shaftesbury and Sunderland.
Temple sprang from a family which, though ancient and honourable, had, before his time, been scarcely mentioned in our history, but which, long after his death, produced so many eminent men, and formed such distinguished alliances, that it exercised, in a regular and constitutional manner, an influence in the state scarcely inferior to that which, in widely different times, and by widely different arts, the house of Neville attained in England, and that of Douglas in Scotland. During the latter years of George the Second, and through the whole reign of George the Third, members of that widely spread and powerful connexion were almost constantly at the head either of the Government or of the Opposition. There were times when the cousinhood, as it was once nicknamed, would of itself have furnished almost all the materials necessary for the construction of an efficient Cabinet. Within the space of fifty years, three First Lords of the Treasury, three Secretaries of State, two Keepers of the Privy Seal, and four First Lords of the Admiralty were appointed from among the sons and grandsons of the Countess Temple.
So splendid have been the fortunes of the main stock of the Temple family, continued by female succession. William Temple, the first of the line who attained to any great historical eminence, was of a younger branch. His father, Sir John Temple, was Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and distinguished himself among the Privy Councillors of that kingdom by the zeal with which, at the commencement of the struggle between the Crown and the Long Parliament, he supported the popular cause. He was arrested by order of the Duke of Ormond, but regained his liberty by an exchange, repaired to England, and there sate in the House of Commons as burgess for Chichester. He attached himself to the Presbyterian party, and was one of those moderate members who, at the close of the year 1648, voted for treating with Charles on the basis to which that Prince had himself agreed, and who were, in consequence, turned out of the House, with small ceremony, by Colonel Pride. Sir John seems, however, to have made his peace with the victorious Independents; for, in 1653, he resumed his office in Ireland.
Sir John Temple was married to a sister of the celebrated Henry Hammond, a learned and pious divine, who took the side of the King with very conspicuous zeal during the civil war, and was deprived of his preferment in the church after the victory of the Parliament. On account of the loss which Hammond sustained on this occasion, he has the honour of being designated, in the cant of that new brood of Oxonian sectaries who unite the worst parts of the Jesuit to the worst parts of the Orangeman, as Hammond, Presbyter, Doctor, and Confessor.
William Temple, Sir John’s eldest son, was born in London in the year 1628. He received his early education under his maternal uncle, was subsequently sent to school at Bishop-Stortford, and, at seventeen, began to reside at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where the celebrated Cudworth was his tutor. The times were not favourable to study. The Civil War disturbed even the quiet cloisters and bowling-greens of Cambridge, produced violent revolutions in the government and discipline of the colleges, and unsettled the minds of the students. Temple forgot at Emmanuel all the little Greek which he had brought from Bishop-Stortford, and never retrieved the loss; a circumstance which would hardly be worth noticing but for the almost incredible fact that fifty years later, he was so absurd as to set up his own authority against that of Bentley on questions of Greek history and philology. He made no proficiency either in the old philosophy which still lingered in the schools of Cambridge, or in the new philosophy of which Lord Bacon was the founder. But to the end of his life he continued to speak of the former with ignorant admiration, and of the latter with equally ignorant contempt.
After residing at Cambridge two years, he departed without taking a degree, and set out upon his travels. He seems to have been then a lively, agreeable young man of fashion, not by any means deeply read, but versed in all the superficial accomplishments of a gentleman, and acceptable in all polite societies. In politics he professed himself a Royalist. His opinions on religious subjects seem to have been such as might be expected from a young man of quick parts, who had received a rambling education, who had not thought deeply, who had been disgusted by the morose austerity of the Puritans, and who, surrounded from childhood by the hubbub of conflicting sects, might easily learn to feel an impartial contempt for them all.
On his road to France he fell in with the son and daughter of Sir Peter Osborne. Sir Peter held Guernsey for the King, and the young people were, like their father, warm for the royal cause. At an inn where they stopped in the Isle of Wight, the brother amused himself with inscribing on the windows his opinion of the ruling powers. For this instance of malignancy the whole party were arrested, and brought before the governor. The sister, trusting to the tenderness which, even in those troubled times, scarcely any gentleman of any party ever failed to show where a woman was concerned, took the crime on herself, and was immediately set at liberty with her fellow-travellers.
This incident, as was natural, made a deep impression on Temple. He was only twenty. Dorothy Osborne was twenty-one. She is said to have been handsome; and there remains abundant proof that she possessed an ample share of the dexterity, the vivacity, and the tenderness of her sex. Temple soon became, in the phrase of that time, her servant, and she returned his regard. But difficulties, as great as ever expanded a novel to the fifth volume, opposed their wishes. When the courtship commenced, the father of the hero was sitting in the Long Parliament; the father of the heroine was commanding in Guernsey for King Charles. Even when the war ended, and Sir Peter Osborne returned to his seat at Chicksands, the prospects of the lovers were scarcely less gloomy. Sir John Temple had a more advantageous alliance in view for his son. Dorothy Osborne was in the mean time besieged by as many suitors as were drawn to Belmont by the fame of Portia. The most distinguished on the list was Henry Cromwell. Destitute of the capacity, the energy, the magnanimity of his illustrious father, destitute also of the meek and placid virtues of his elder brother, this young man was perhaps a more formidable rival in love than either of them would have been. Mrs. Hutchinson, speaking the sentiments of the grave and aged, describes him as an “insolent foole,” and a “debauched ungodly cavalier.” These expressions probably mean that he was one who, among young and dissipated people, would pass for a fine gentleman. Dorothy was fond of dogs of larger and more formidable breed than those which lie on modern hearth-rugs; and Henry Cromwell promised that the highest functionaries at Dublin should be set to work to procure her a fine Irish greyhound. She seems to have felt his attentions as very flattering, though his father was then only Lord-General, and not yet Protector. Love, however, triumphed over ambition, and the young lady appears never to have regretted her decision; though, in a letter written just at the time when all England was ringing with the news of the violent dissolution of the Long Parliament, she could not refrain from reminding Temple, with pardonable vanity, “how great she might have been, if she had been so wise as to have taken hold of the offer of H. C.”
Nor was it only the influence of rivals that Temple had to dread. The relations of his mistress regarded him with personal dislike, and spoke of him as an unprincipled adventurer, without honour or religion, ready to render service to any party for the sake of preferment. This is, indeed, a very distorted view of Temple’s character. Yet a character, even in the most distorted view taken of it by the most angry and prejudiced minds, generally retains something of its outline. No caricaturist ever represented Mr. Pitt as a Falstaff, or Mr. Fox as a skeleton; nor did any libeller ever impute parsimony to Sheridan, or profusion to Marlborough. It must be allowed that the turn of mind which the eulogists of Temple have dignified with the appellation of philosophical indifference, and which, however becoming it may be in an old and experienced statesman, has a somewhat ungraceful appearance in youth, might easily appear shocking to a family who were ready to fight or to suffer martyrdom for their exiled King and their persecuted church. The poor girl was exceedingly hurt and irritated by these imputations on her lover, defended him warmly behind his back, and addressed to himself some very tender and anxious admonitions, mingled with assurances of her confidence in his honour and virtue. On one occasion she was most highly provoked by the way in which one of her brothers spoke of Temple. “We talked ourselves weary,” she says; “he renounced me, and I defied him.”
Near seven years did this arduous wooing continue. We are not accurately informed respecting Temple’s movements during that time. But he seems to have led a rambling life, sometimes on the Continent, sometimes in Ireland, sometimes in London. He made himself master of the French and Spanish languages, and amused himself by writing essays and romances, an employment which at least served the purpose of forming his style. The specimen which Mr. Courtenay has preserved of these early compositions is by no means contemptible: indeed, there is one passage on Like and Dislike which could have been produced only by a mind habituated carefully to reflect on its own operations, and which reminds us of the best things in Montaigne.
Temple appears to have kept up a very active correspondence with his mistress. His letters are lost, but hers have been preserved; and many of them appear in these volumes. Mr. Courtenay expresses some doubt whether his readers will think him justified in inserting so large a number of these epistles. We only wish that there were twice as many. Very little indeed of the diplomatic correspondence of that generation is so well worth reading. There is a vile phrase of which bad historians are exceedingly fond, “the dignity of history.” One writer is in possession of some anecdotes which would illustrate most strikingly the operation of the Mississippi scheme on the manners and morals of the Parisians. But he suppresses those anecdotes, because they are too low for the dignity of history. Another is strongly tempted to mention some facts indicating the horrible state of the prisons of England two hundred years ago. But he hardly thinks that the sufferings of a dozen felons, pigging together on bare bricks in a hole fifteen feet square, would form a subject suited to the dignity of history. Another, from respect for the dignity of history, publishes an account of the reign of George the Second, without ever mentioning Whitefield’s preaching in Moorfields. How should a writer, who can talk about senates, and congresses of sovereigns, and pragmatic sanctions, and ravelines, and counterscarps, and battles where ten thousand men are killed, and six thousand men with fifty stand of colours and eighty guns taken, stoop to the Stock-Exchange, to Newgate, to the theatre, to the tabernacle?
Tragedy has its dignity as well as history; and how much the tragic art has owed to that dignity any man may judge who will compare the majestic Alexandrines in which the Seigneur Oreste and Madame Andromaque utter their complaints, with the chattering of the fool in Lear and of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
That a historian should not record trifles, that he should confine himself to what is important, is perfectly true. But many writers seem never to have considered on what the historical importance of an event depends. They seem not to be aware that the importance of a fact, when that fact is considered with reference to its immediate effects, and the importance of the same fact, when that fact is considered as part of the materials for the construction of a science, are two very different things. The quantity of good or evil which a transaction produces is by no means necessarily proportioned to the quantity of light which that transaction affords, as to the way in which good or evil may hereafter be produced. The poisoning of an emperor is in one sense a far more serious matter than the poisoning of a rat. But the poisoning of a rat may be an era in chemistry; and an emperor may be poisoned by such ordinary means, and with such ordinary symptoms, that no scientific journal would notice the occurrence. An action for a hundred thousand pounds is in one sense a more momentous affair than an action for fifty pounds. But it by no means follows that the learned gentlemen who report the proceedings of the courts of law ought to give a fuller account of an action for a hundred thousand pounds, than of an action for fifty pounds. For a cause in which a large sum is at stake may be important only to the particular plaintiff and the particular defendant. A cause, on the other hand, in which a small sum is at stake, may establish some great principle interesting to half the families in the kingdom. The case is exactly the same with that class of subjects of which historians treat. To an Athenian, in the time of the Peloponnesian war, the result of the battle of Delium was far more important than the fate of the comedy of The Knights. But to us the fact that the comedy of The Knights was brought on the Athenian stage with success is far more important than the fact that the Athenian phalanx gave way at Delium. Neither the one event nor the other has now any intrinsic importance. We are in no danger of being speared by the Thebans. We are not quizzed in The Knights. To us the importance of both events consists in the value of the general truth which is to be learned from them. What general truth do we learn from the accounts which have come down to us of the battle of Delium? Very little more than this, that when two armies fight, it is not improbable that one of them will be very soundly beaten, a truth which it would not, we apprehend, be difficult to establish, even if all memory of the battle of Delium were lost among men. But a man who becomes acquainted with the comedy of The Knights, and with the history of that comedy, at once feels his mind enlarged. Society is presented to him under a new aspect. He may have read and travelled much. He may have visited all the countries of Europe, and the civilised nations of the East. He may have observed the manners of many barbarous races. But here is something altogether different from every thing which he has seen, either among polished men or among savages. Here is a community politically, intellectually, and morally unlike any other community of which he has the means of forming an opinion. This is the really precious part of history, the corn which some threshers carefully sever from the chaff, for the purpose of gathering the chaff into the garner, and flinging the corn into the fire.
Thinking thus, we are glad to learn so much, and would willingly learn more, about the loves of Sir William and his mistress. In the seventeenth century, to be sure, Louis the Fourteenth was a much more important person than Temple’s sweetheart. But death and time equalise all things. Neither the great King, nor the beauty of Bedfordshire, neither the gorgeous paradise of Marli nor Mistress Osborne’s favourite walk “in the common that lay hard by the house, where a great many young wenches used to keep sheep and cows and sit in the shade singing of ballads,” is any thing to us. Louis and Dorothy are alike dust. A cotton-mill stands on the ruins of Marli; and the Osbornes have ceased to dwell under the ancient roof of Chicksands. But of that information for the sake of which alone it is worth while to study remote events, we find so much in the love letters which Mr. Courtenay has published, that we would gladly purchase equally interesting billets with ten times their weight in state-papers taken at random. To us surely it is as useful to know how the young ladies of England employed themselves a hundred and eighty years ago, how far their minds were cultivated, what were their favourite studies, what degree of liberty was allowed to them, what use they made of that liberty, what accomplishments they most valued in men, and what proofs of tenderness delicacy permitted them to give to favoured suitors, as to know all about the seizure of Franche Compté and the treaty of Nimeguen. The mutual relations of the two sexes seem to us to be at least as important as the mutual relations of any two governments in the world; and a series of letters written by a virtuous, amiable, and sensible girl, and intended for the eye of her lover alone, can scarcely fail to throw some light on the relations of the sexes; whereas it is perfectly possible, as all who have made any historical researches can attest, to read bale after bale of despatches and protocols, without catching one glimpse of light about the relations of governments.
Mr. Courtenay proclaims that he is one of Dorothy Osborne’s devoted servants, and expresses a hope that the publication of her letters will add to the number. We must declare ourselves his rivals. She really seems to have been a very charming young woman, modest, generous, affectionate, intelligent, and sprightly; a royalist, as was to be expected from her connexions, without any of that political asperity which is as unwomanly as a long beard; religious, and occasionally gliding into a very pretty and endearing sort of preaching, yet not too good to partake of such diversions as London afforded under the melancholy rule of the puritans, or to giggle a little at a ridiculous sermon from a divine who was thought to be one of the great lights of the Assembly at Westminster; with a little turn for conquetry, which was yet perfectly compatible with warm and disinterested attachment, and a little turn for satire, which yet seldom passed the bounds of good-nature. She loved reading; but her studies were not those of Queen Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey. She read the verses of Cowley and Lord Broghill, French Memoirs recommended by her lover, and the Travels of Fernando Mendez Pinto. But her favourite books were those ponderous French romances which modern readers know chiefly from the pleasant satire of Charlotte Lennox. She could not, however, help laughing at the vile English into which they were translated. Her own style is very agreeable; nor are her letters at all the worse for some passages in which raillery and tenderness are mixed in a very engaging namby-pamby.
When at last the constancy of the lovers had triumphed over all the obstacles which kinsmen and rivals could oppose to their union, a yet more serious calamity befell them. Poor Mistress Osborne fell ill of the small-pox, and, though she escaped with life, lost all her beauty. To this most severe trial the affection and honour of the lovers of that age was not unfrequently subjected. Our readers probably remember what Mrs. Hutchinson tells us of herself. The lofty Cornelia-like spirit of the aged matron seems to melt into a long forgotten softness when she relates how her beloved Colonel “married her as soon as she was able to quit the chamber, when the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to look on her. But God,” she adds, with a not ungraceful vanity, “recompensed his justice and constancy, by restoring her as well as before.” Temple showed on this occasion the same justice and constancy which did so much honour to Colonel Hutchinson. The date of the marriage is not exactly known. But Mr. Courtenay supposes it to have taken place about the end of the year 1654. From this time we lose sight of Dorothy, and are reduced to form our opinion of the terms on which she and her husband were from very slight indications which may easily mislead us.
Temple soon went to Ireland, and resided with his father, partly at Dublin, partly in the county of Carlow. Ireland was probably then a more agreeable residence for the higher classes, as compared with England, than it has ever been before or since. In no part of the empire were the superiority of Cromwell’s abilities and the force of his character so signally displayed. He had not the power, and probably had not the inclination, to govern that island in the best way. The rebellion of the aboriginal race had excited in England a strong religious and national aversion to them; nor is there any reason to believe that the Protector was so far beyond his age as to be free from the prevailing sentiment. He had vanquished them; he knew that they were in his power; and he regarded them as a band of malefactors and idolaters, who were mercifully treated if they were not smitten with the edge of the sword. On those who resisted he had made war as the Hebrews made war on the Canaanites. Drogheda was as Jericho; and Wexford as Ai. To the remains of the old population the conqueror granted a peace, such as that which Israel granted to the Gibeonites. He made them hewers of wood and drawers of water. But, good or bad, he could not be otherwise than great. Under favourable circumstances, Ireland would have found in him a most just and beneficent ruler. She found in him a tyrant; not a small, teasing tyrant, such as those who have so long been her curse and her shame, but one of those awful tyrants who, at long intervals, seem to be sent on earth, like avenging angels, with some high commission of destruction and renovation. He was no man of half measures, of mean affronts and ungracious concessions. His Protestant ascendency was not an ascendency of ribands, and fiddles, and statues, and processions. He would never have dreamed of abolishing the penal code and withholding from Catholics the elective franchise, of giving them the elective franchise and excluding them from Parliament, of admitting them to Parliament, and refusing to them a full and equal participation in all the blessings of society and government. The thing most alien from his clear intellect and his commanding spirit was petty persecution. He knew how to tolerate; and he knew how to destroy. His administration in Ireland was an administration on what are now called Orange principles, followed out most ably, most steadily, most undauntedly, most unrelentingly, to every extreme consequence to which those principles lead; and it would, if continued, inevitably have produced the effect which he contemplated, an entire decomposition and reconstruction of society. He had a great and definite object in view, to make Ireland thoroughly English, to make Ireland another Yorkshire or Norfolk. Thinly peopled as Ireland then was, this end was not unattainable; and there is every reason to believe that, if his policy had been followed during fifty years, this end would have been attained. Instead of an emigration, such as we now see from Ireland to England, there was, under his government, a constant and large emigration from England to Ireland. This tide of population ran almost as strongly as that which now runs from Massachusetts and Connecticut to the states behind the Ohio. The native race was driven back before the advancing van of the Anglo-Saxon population, as the American Indians or the tribes of Southern Africa are now driven back before the white settlers. Those fearful phenomena which have almost invariably attended the planting of civilised colonies in uncivilised countries, and which had been known to the nations of Europe only by distant and questionable rumour, were now publicly exhibited in their sight. The words, “extirpation,” “eradication,” were often in the mouths of the English back-settlers of Leinster and Munster, cruel words, yet, in their cruelty, containing more mercy than much softer expressions which have since been sanctioned by universities and cheered by Parliaments. For it is in truth more merciful to extirpate a hundred thousand human beings at once, and to fill the void with a well-governed population, than to misgovern millions through a long succession of generations. We can much more easily pardon tremendous severities inflicted for a great object, than an endless series of paltry vexations and oppressions inflicted for no rational object at all.
Ireland was fast becoming English. Civilisation and wealth were making rapid progress in almost every part of the island. The effects of that iron despotism are described to us by a hostile witness in very remarkable language. “Which is more wonderful,” says Lord Clarendon, “all this was done and settled within little more than two years, to that degree of perfection that there were many buildings raised for beauty as well as use, orderly and regular plantations of trees, and fences and inclosures raised throughout the kingdom, purchases made by one from another at very valuable rates, and jointures made upon marriages, and all other conveyances and settlements executed, as in a kingdom at peace within itself, and where no doubt could be made of the validity of titles.”
All Temple’s feelings about Irish questions were those of a colonist and a member of the dominant caste. He troubled himself as little about the welfare of the remains of the old Celtic population, as an English farmer on the Swan River troubles himself about the New Hollanders, or a Dutch boor at the Cape about the Caffres. The years which he passed in Ireland, while the Cromwellian system was in full operation, he always described as “years of great satisfaction.” Farming, gardening, county business, and studies rather entertaining than profound, occupied his time. In politics he took no part, and many years later he attributed this inaction to his love of the ancient constitution, which, he said, “would not suffer him to enter into public affairs till the way was plain for the King’s happy restoration.” It does not appear, indeed, that any offer of employment was made to him. If he really did refuse any preferment, we may, without much breach of charity, attribute the refusal rather to the caution which, during his whole life, prevented him from running any risk, than to the fervour of his loyalty.
In 1660 he made his first appearance in public life. He sat in the convention which, in the midst of the general confusion that preceded the Restoration, was summoned by the chiefs of the army of Ireland to meet in Dublin. After the King’s return an Irish parliament was regularly convoked, in which Temple represented the county of Carlow. The details of his conduct in this situation are not known to us. But we are told in general terms, and can easily believe, that he showed great moderation, and great aptitude for business. It is probable that he also distinguished himself in debate; for many years afterwards he remarked that “his friends in Ireland used to think that, if he had any talent at all, it lay in that way.”
In May, 1663, the Irish parliament was prorogued, and Temple repaired to England with his wife. His income amounted to about five hundred pounds a year, a sum which was then sufficient for the wants of a family mixing in fashionable circles. He passed two years in London, where he seems to have led that easy, lounging life which was best suited to his temper.
He was not, however, unmindful of his interest. He had brought with him letters of introduction from the Duke of Ormond, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, to Clarendon, and to Henry Bennet, Lord Arlington, who was Secretary of State. Clarendon was at the head of affairs. But his power was visibly declining, and was certain to decline more and more every day. An observer much less discerning than Temple might easily perceive that the Chancellor was a man who belonged to a by-gone world, a representative of a past age, of obsolete modes of thinking, of unfashionable vices, and of more unfashionable virtues. His long exile had made him a stranger in the country of his birth. His mind, heated by conflict and by personal suffering, was far more set against popular and tolerant courses than it had been at the time of the breaking out of the civil war. He pined for the decorous tyranny of the old Whitehall; for the days of that sainted king who deprived his people of their money and their ears, but let their wives and daughters alone; and could scarcely reconcile himself to a court with a seraglio and without a Star-chamber. By taking this course he made himself every day more odious, both to the sovereign, who loved pleasure much more than prerogative, and to the people, who dreaded royal prerogatives much more than royal pleasures; and thus he was at last more detested by the Court than any chief of the Opposition, and more detested by the Parliament than any pandar of the Court.
Temple, whose great maxim was to offend no party, was not likely to cling to the falling fortunes of a minister the study of whose life was to offend all parties. Arlington, whose influence was gradually rising as that of Clarendon diminished, was the most useful patron to whom a young adventurer could attach himself. This statesman, without virtue, wisdom, or strength of mind, had raised himself to greatness by superficial qualities, and was the mere creature of the time, the circumstances, and the company. The dignified reserve of manners which he had acquired during a residence in Spain provoked the ridicule of those who considered the usages of the French court as the only standard of good breeding, but served to impress the crowd with a favourable opinion of his sagacity and gravity. In situations where the solemnity of the Escurial would have been out of place, he threw it aside without difficulty, and conversed with great humour and vivacity. While the multitude were talking of “Bennet’s grave looks* ,” his mirth made his presence always welcome in the royal closet. While Buckingham, in the antechamber, was mimicking the pompous Castilian strut of the Secretary, for the diversion of Mistress Stuart, this stately Don was ridiculing Clarendon’s sober counsels to the King within, till his Majesty cried with laughter, and the Chancellor with vexation. There perhaps never was a man whose outward demeanour made such different impressions on different people. Count Hamilton, for example, describes him as a stupid formalist, who had been made secretary solely on account of his mysterious and important looks. Clarendon, on the other hand, represents him as a man whose “best faculty was raillery,” and who was “for his pleasant and agreeable humour acceptable unto the King.” The truth seems to be that, destitute as Bennet was of all the higher qualifications of a minister, he had a wonderful talent for becoming, in outward semblance, all things to all men. He had two aspects, a busy and serious one for the public, whom he wished to awe into respect, and a gay one for Charles, who thought that the greatest service which could be rendered to a prince was to amuse him. Yet both these were masks which he laid aside when they had served their turn. Long after, when he had retired to his deer-park and fish-ponds in Suffolk, and had no motive to act the part either of the hidalgo or of the buffoon, Evelyn, who was neither an unpractised nor an undiscerning judge, conversed much with him, and pronounced him to be a man of singularly polished manners and of great colloquial powers.
Clarendon, proud and imperious by nature, soured by age and disease, and relying on his great talents and services, sought out no new allies. He seems to have taken a sort of morose pleasure in slighting and provoking all the rising talent of the kingdom. His connexions were almost entirely confined to the small circle, every day becoming smaller, of old cavaliers who had been friends of his youth or companions of his exile. Arlington, on the other hand, beat up every where for recruits. No man had a greater personal following, and no man exerted himself more to serve his adherents. It was a kind of habit with him to push up his dependents to his own level, and then to complain bitterly of their ingratitude because they did not choose to be his dependents any longer. It was thus that he quarrelled with two successive Treasurers, Gifford and Danby. To Arlington Temple attached himself, and was not sparing of warm professions of affection, or even, we grieve to say, of gross and almost profane adulation. In no long time he obtained his reward.
England was in a very different situation with respect to foreign powers from that which she had occupied during the splendid administration of the Protector. She was engaged in war with the United Provinces, then governed with almost regal power by the Grand Pensionary, John de Witt; and though no war had ever cost the kingdom so much, none had ever been more feeble and meanly conducted. France had espoused the interests of the States General. Denmark seemed likely to take the same side. Spain, indignant at the close political and matrimonial alliance which Charles had formed with the House of Braganza, was not disposed to lend him any assistance. The great plague of London had suspended trade, had scattered the ministers and nobles, had paralysed every department of the public service, and had increased the gloomy discontent which misgovernment had begun to excite throughout the nation. One continental ally England possessed, the Bishop of Munster, a restless and ambitious prelate, bred a soldier, and still a soldier in all his tastes and passions. He hated the Dutch for interfering in the affairs of his see, and declared himself willing to risk his little dominions for the chance of revenge. He sent, accordingly, a strange kind of ambassador to London, a Benedictine monk, who spoke bad English, and looked, says Lord Clarendon, “like a carter.” This person brought a letter from the Bishop, offering to make an attack by land on the Dutch territory. The English Ministers eagerly caught at the proposal, and promised a subsidy of 500,000 rix-dollars to their new ally. It was determined to send an English agent to Munster; and Arlington, to whose department the business belonged, fixed on Temple for this post.
Temple accepted the commission, and acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employers, though the whole plan ended in nothing, and the Bishop, finding that France had joined Holland, made haste, after pocketing an instalment of his subsidy, to conclude a separate peace. Temple, at a later period, looked back with no great satisfaction to this part of his life; and excused himself for undertaking a negotiation from which little good could result, by saying that he was then young and very new to business. In truth, he could hardly have been placed in a situation where the eminent diplomatic talents which he possessed could have appeared to less advantage. He was ignorant of the German language, and did not easily accommodate himself to the manners of the people. He could not bear much wine; and none but a hard drinker had any chance of success in Westphalian Society. Under all these disadvantages, however, he gave so much satisfaction that he was created a baronet, and appointed resident at the viceregal court of Brussels.
Brussels suited Temple far better than the palaces of the boar-hunting and wine-bibbing princes of Germany. He now occupied one of the most important posts of observation in which a diplomatist could be stationed. He was placed in the territory of a great neutral power, between the territories of two great powers which were at war with England. From this excellent school he soon came forth the most accomplished negotiator of his age.
In the mean time the government of Charles had suffered a succession of humiliating disasters. The extravagance of the court had dissipated all the means which Parliament had supplied for the purpose of carrying on offensive hostilities. It was determined to wage only a defensive war; and even for defensive war the vast resources of England, managed by triflers and public robbers, were found insufficient. The Dutch insulted the British coasts, sailed up the Thames, took Sheerness, and carried their ravages to Chatham. The blaze of the ships burning in the river was seen at London: it was rumoured that a foreign army had landed at Gravesend; and military men seriously proposed to abandon the Tower. To such a depth of infamy had a bad administration reduced that proud and victorious country, which a few years before had dictated its pleasure to Mazarine, to the States General, and to the Vatican. Humbled by the events of the war, and dreading the just anger of Parliament, the English Ministry hastened to huddle up a peace with France and Holland at Breda.
But a new scene was about to open. It had already been for some time apparent to discerning observers, that England and Holland were threatened by a common danger, much more formidable than any which they had reason to apprehend from each other. The old enemy of their independence and of their religion was no longer to be dreaded. The sceptre had passed away from Spain. That mighty empire, on which the sun never set, which had crushed the liberties of Italy and Germany, which had occupied Paris with its armies, and covered the British seas with its sails, was at the mercy of every spoiler; and Europe observed with dismay the rapid growth of a new and more formidable power. Men looked to Spain and saw only weakness disguised and increased by pride, dominions of vast bulk and little strength, tempting, unwieldy, and defenceless, an empty treasury, a sullen and torpid nation, a child on the throne, factions in the council, ministers who served only themselves, and soldiers who were terrible only to their countrymen. Men looked to France, and saw a large and compact territory, a rich soil, a central situation, a bold, alert, and ingenious people, large revenues, numerous and well-disciplined troops, an active and ambitious prince, in the flower of his age, surrounded by generals of unrivalled skill. The projects of Louis could be counteracted only by ability, vigour, and union on the part of his neighbours. Ability and vigour had hitherto been found in the councils of Holland alone, and of union there was no appearance in Europe. The question of Portuguese independence separated England from Spain. Old grudges, recent hostilities, maritime pretensions, commercial competition separated England as widely from the United Provinces
The great object of Louis, from the beginning to the end of his reign, was the acquisition of those large and valuable provinces of the Spanish monarchy, which lay contiguous to the eastern frontier of France. Already, before the conclusion of the treaty of Breda, he had invaded those provinces. He now pushed on his conquests with scarcely any resistance. Fortress after fortress was taken. Brussels itself was in danger; and Temple thought it wise to send his wife and children to England. But his sister, Lady Giffard, who had been some time his inmate, and who seems to have been a more important personage in his family than his wife, still remained with him.
De Witt saw the progress of the French arms with painful anxiety. But it was not in the power of Holland alone to save Flanders; and the difficulty of forming an extensive coalition for that purpose appeared almost insuperable. Louis, indeed, affected moderation. He declared himself willing to agree to a compromise with Spain. But these offers were undoubtedly mere professions, intended to quiet the apprehensions of the neighbouring powers; and, as his position became every day more and more advantageous, it was to be expected that he would rise in his demands.
Such was the state of affairs when Temple obtained from the English Ministry permission to make a tour in Holland incognito. In company with Lady Giffard he arrived at the Hague. He was not charged with any public commission, but he availed himself of this opportunity of introducing himself to De Witt. “My only business, sir,” he said, “is to see the things which are most considerable in your country, and I should execute my design very imperfectly if I went away without seeing you.” De Witt, who from report had formed a high opinion of Temple, was pleased by the compliment, and replied with a frankness and cordiality which at once led to intimacy. The two statesmen talked calmly over the causes which had estranged England from Holland, congratulated each other on the peace, and then began to discuss the new dangers which menaced Europe. Temple, who had no authority to say any thing on behalf of the English Government, expressed himself very guardedly. De Witt, who was himself the Dutch Government, had no reason to be reserved. He openly declared that his wish was to see a general coalition formed for the preservation of Flanders. His simplicity and openness amazed Temple, who had been accustomed to the affected solemnity of his patron, the Secretary, and to the eternal doublings and evasions which passed for great feats of statesmanship among the Spanish politicians at Brussels. “Whoever,” he wrote to Arlington, “deals with M. de Witt must go the same plain way that he pretends to in his negotiations, without refining or colouring or offering shadow for substance.” Temple was scarcely less struck by the modest dwelling and frugal table of the first citizen of the richest state in the world. While Clarendon was amazing London with a dwelling more sumptuous than the palace of his master, while Arlington was lavishing his ill-gotten wealth on the decoys and orange-gardens and interminable conservatories of Euston, the great statesman who had frustrated all their plans of conquest, and the roar of whose guns they had heard with terror even in the galleries of Whitehall, kept only a single servant, walked about the streets in the plainest garb, and never used a coach except for visits of ceremony.
Temple sent a full account of his interview with De Witt to Arlington who, in consequence of the fall of the Chancellor, now shared with the Duke of Buckingham the principal direction of affairs. Arlington showed no disposition to meet the advances of the Dutch minister. Indeed, as was amply proved a few years later, both he and his master were perfectly willing to purchase the means of misgoverning England by giving up, not only Flanders, but the whole Continent, to France. Temple, who distinctly saw that a moment had arrived at which it was possible to reconcile his country with Holland, to reconcile Charles with the Parliament, to bridle the power of Louis, to efface the shame of the late ignominious war, to restore England to the same place in Europe which she had occupied under Cromwell, became more and more urgent in his representations. Arlington’s replies were for some time couched in cold and ambiguous terms. But the events which followed the meeting of Parliament, in the autumn of 1667, appear to have produced an entire change in his views. The discontent of the nation was deep and general. The administration was attacked in all its parts. The King and the ministers laboured, not unsuccessfully to throw on Clarendon the blame of past miscarriages; but though the Commons were resolved that the late Chancellor should be the first victim, it was by no means clear that he would be the last. The Secretary was personally attacked with great bitterness in the course of the debates. One of the resolutions of the Lower House against Clarendon was in truth a censure of the foreign policy of the Government, as too favourable to France. To these events chiefly we are inclined to attribute the change which at this crisis took place in the measures of England. The Ministry seem to have felt that, if they wished to derive any advantage from Clarendon’s downfal, it was necessary for them to abandon what was supposed to be Clarendon’s system, and by some splendid and popular measure to win the confidence of the nation. Accordingly, in December, 1667, Temple received a despatch containing instructions of the highest importance. The plan which he had so strongly recommended was approved; and he was directed to visit De Witt as speedily as possible, and to ascertain whether the States were willing to enter into an offensive and defensive league with England against the projects of France. Temple, accompanied by his sister, instantly set out for the Hague, and laid the propositions of the English Government before the Grand Pensionary. The Dutch statesman answered with characteristic staightforwardness, that he was fully ready to agree to a defensive confederacy, but that it was the fundamental principle of the foreign policy of the States to make no offensive alliance under any circumstances whatsoever. With this answer Temple hastened from the Hague to London, had an audience of the King, related what had passed between himself and De Witt, exerted himself to remove the unfavourable opinion which had been conceived of the Grand Pensionary at the English court, and had the satisfaction of succeeding in all his objects. On the evening of the first of January, 1668, a council was held, at which Charles declared his resolution to unite with the Dutch on their own terms. Temple and his indefatigable sister immediately sailed again for the Hague, and, after weathering a violent storm in which they were very nearly lost, arrived in safety at the place of their destination.
On this occasion, as on every other, the dealings between Temple and De Witt were singularly fair and open. When they met, Temple began by recapitulating what had passed at their last interview. De Witt, who was as little given to lying with his face as with his tongue, marked his assent by his looks while the recapitulation proceeded, and, when it was concluded, answered that Temple’s memory was perfectly correct, and thanked him for proceeding in so exact and sincere a manner. Temple then informed the Grand Pensionary that the King of England had determined to close with the proposal of a defensive alliance. De Witt had not expected so speedy a resolution; and his countenance indicated surprise as well as pleasure. But he did not retract; and it was speedily arranged that England and Holland should unite for the purpose of compelling Louis to abide by the compromise which he had formerly offered. The next object of the two statesmen was to induce another government to become a party to their league. The victories of Gustavus and Torstenson, and the political talents of Oxenstiern, had obtained for Sweden a consideration in Europe, disproportioned to her real power: the princes of Northern Germany stood in great awe of her; and De Witt and Temple agreed that if she could be induced to accede to the league, “it would be too strong a bar for France to venture on.” Temple went that same evening to Count Dona, the Swedish Minister at the Hague, took a seat in the most unceremonious manner, and, with that air of frankness and good-will by which he often succeeded in rendering his diplomatic overtures acceptable, explained the scheme which was in agitation. Dona was greatly pleased and flattered. He had not powers which would authorise him to conclude a treaty of such importance. But he strongly advised Temple and De Witt to do their part without delay, and seemed confident that Sweden would accede. The ordinary course of public business in Holland was too slow for the present emergency; and De Witt appeared to have some scruples about breaking through the established forms. But the urgency and dexterity of Temple prevailed. The States General took the responsibility of executing the treaty with a celerity unprecedented in the annals of the federation, and indeed inconsistent with its fundamental laws. The state of public feeling was, however, such in all the provinces, that this irregularity was not merely pardoned but applauded. When the instrument had been formally signed, the Dutch Commissioners embraced the English Plenipotentiary with the warmest expressions of kindness and confidence. “At Breda,” exclaimed Temple, “we embraced as friends, here as brothers.”
This memorable negotiation occupied only five days. De Witt complimented Temple in high terms on having effected in so short a time what must, under other management, have been the work of months; and Temple, in his despatches, spoke in equally high terms of De Witt. “I must add these words, to do M. de Witt right, that I found him as plain, as direct and square in the course of this business as any man could be, though often stiff in points where he thought any advantage could accrue to his country; and have all the reason in the world to be satisfied with him; and for his industry, no man had ever more I am sure. For these five days at least, neither of us spent any idle hours, neither day nor night.”
Sweden willingly acceded to the league, which is known in history by the name of the Triple Alliance; and, after some signs of ill-humour on the part of France, a general pacification was the result.
The Triple Alliance may be viewed in two lights, as a measure of foreign policy, and as a measure of domestic policy; and under both aspects it seems to us deserving of all the praise which has been bestowed upon it.
Dr. Lingard, who is undoubtedly a very able and well informed writer, but whose great fundamental rule of judging seems to be that the popular opinion on a historical question cannot possibly be correct, speaks very slightingly of this celebrated treaty; and Mr. Courtenay, who by no means regards Temple with that profound veneration which is generally found in biographers, has conceded, in our opinion, far too much to Dr. Lingard.
The reasoning of Dr. Lingard is simply this. The Triple Alliance only compelled Louis to make peace on the terms on which, before the alliance was formed, he had offered to make peace. How can it then be said that this alliance arrested his career, and preserved Europe from his ambition? Now, this reasoning is evidently of no force at all, except on the supposition that Louis would have held himself bound by his former offers, if the alliance had not been formed; and, if Dr. Lingard thinks this a reasonable supposition, we should be disposed to say to him, in the words of that great politician, Mrs. Western; “Indeed, brother, you would make a fine plenipo to negotiate with the French. They would soon persuade you that they take towns out of mere defensive principles.” Our own impression is that Louis made his offer only in order to avert some such measure as the Triple Alliance, and adhered to his offer only in consequence of that alliance. He had refused to consent to an armistice. He had made all his arrangements for a winter campaign. In the very week in which Temple and the States concluded their agreement at the Hague, Franche Comté was attacked by the French armies, and in three weeks the whole province was conquered. This prey Louis was compelled to disgorge. And what compelled him? Did the object seem to him small or contemptible? On the contrary, the annexation of Franche Comté to his kingdom was one of the favourite projects of his life. Was he withheld by regard for his word? Did he, who never in any other transaction of his reign showed the smallest respect for the most solemn obligations of public faith, who violated the Treaty of the Pyrenees, who violated the Treaty of Aix, who violated the Treaty of Nimeguen, who violated the Partition Treaty, who violated the Treaty of Utrecht, feel himself restrained by his word on this single occasion? Can any person who is acquainted with his character and with his whole policy doubt that, if the neighbouring powers would have looked quietly on, he would instantly have risen in his demands? How then stands the case? He wished to keep Franche Comté. It was not from regard to his word that he ceded Franche Comté. Why then did he cede Franche Comté. We answer, as all Europe answered at the time, from fear of the Triple Alliance.
But grant that Louis was not really stopped in his progress by this famous league; still it is certain that the world then, and long after, believed that he was so stopped, and that this was the prevailing impression in France as well as in other countries. Temple, therefore, at the very least, succeeded in raising the credit of his country, and in lowering the credit of a rival power. Here there is no room for controversy. No grubbing among old state-papers will ever bring to light any document which will shake these facts; that Europe believed the ambition of France to have been curbed by the three powers; that England, a few months before the last among the nations, forced to abandon her own seas, unable to defend the mouths of her own rivers, regained almost as high a place in the estimation of her neighbours as she had held in the times of Elizabeth and Oliver; and that all this change of opinion was produced in five days by wise and resolute counsels, without the firing of a single gun. That the Triple Alliance effected this will hardly be disputed; and therefore, even if it effected nothing else, it must still be regarded as a masterpiece of diplomacy.
Considered as a measure of domestic policy, this treaty seems to be equally deserving of approbation. It did much to allay discontents, to reconcile the sovereign with a people who had, under his wretched administration, become ashamed of him and of themselves. It was a kind of pledge for internal good government. The foreign relations of the kingdom had at that time the closest connexion with our domestic policy. From the Restoration to the accession of the House of Hanover, Holland and France were to England what the right-hand horseman and the left-hand horseman in Bürger’s fine ballad were to the Wildgraf, the good and the evil counsellor, the angel of light and the angel of darkness. The ascendency of France was inseparably connected with the prevalence of tyranny in domestic affairs. The ascendency of Holland was as inseparably connected with the prevalence of political liberty and of mutual toleration among Protestant sects. How fatal and degrading an influence Louis was destined to exercise on the British counsels, how great a deliverance our country was destined to owe to the States, could not be foreseen when the Triple Alliance was concluded. Yet even then all discerning men considered it as a good omen for the English constitution and the reformed religion, that the Government had attached itself to Holland, and had assumed a firm and somewhat hostile attitude towards France. The fame of this measure was the greater, because it stood so entirely alone. It was the single eminently good act performed by the Government during the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution.* Every person who had the smallest part in it, and some who had no part in it at all, battled for a share of the credit. The most parsimonious republicans were ready to grant money for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this popular alliance; and the great Tory poet of that age, in his finest satires, repeatedly spoke with reverence of the “triple bond.”
This negotiation raised the fame of Temple both at home and abroad to a great height, to such a height, indeed, as seems to have excited the jealousy of his friend Arlington. While London and Amsterdam resounded with acclamations of joy, the Secretary, in very cold official language, communicated to his friend the approbation of the King; and, lavish as the Government was of titles and of money, its ablest servant was neither ennobled nor enriched.
Temple’s next mission was to Aix-la-Chapelle, where a general congress met for the purpose of perfecting the work of the Triple Alliance. On his road he received abundant proofs of the estimation in which he was held. Salutes were fired from the walls of the towns through which he passed; the population poured forth into the streets to see him; and the magistrates entertained him with speeches and banquets. After the close of the negotiations at Aix he was appointed Ambassador at the Hague. But in both these missions he experienced much vexation from the rigid, and, indeed, unjust parsimony of the Government. Profuse to many unworthy applicants, the Ministers were niggardly to him alone. They secretly disliked his politics; and they seem to have indemnified themselves for the humiliation of adopting his measures, by cutting down his salary and delaying the settlement of his outfit.
At the Hague he was received with cordiality by De Witt, and with the most signal marks of respect by the States-General. His situation was in one point extremely delicate. The Prince of Orange, the hereditary chief of the faction opposed to the administration of De Witt, was the nephew of Charles. To preserve the confidence of the ruling party, without showing any want of respect to so near a relation of his own master, was no easy task. But Temple acquitted himself so well that he appears to have been in great favour, both with the Grand Pensionary and with the Prince.
In the main, the years which he spent at the Hague seem, in spite of some pecuniary difficulties occasioned by the ill-will of the English Ministers, to have passed very agreeably. He enjoyed the highest personal consideration. He was surrounded by objects interesting in the highest degree to a man of his observant turn of mind. He had no wearing labour, no heavy responsibility; and, if he had no opportunity of adding to his high reputation, he ran no risk of impairing it.
But evil times were at hand. Though Charles had for a moment deviated into a wise and dignified policy, his heart had always been with France; and France employed every means of seduction to lure him back. His impatience of control, his greediness for money, his passion for beauty, his family affections, all his tastes, all his feelings, were practised on with the utmost dexterity. His interior Cabinet was now composed of men such as that generation, and that generation alone produced; of men at whose audacious profligacy the renegades and jobbers of our own time look with the same sort of admiring despair with which our sculptors contemplate the Theseus, and our painters the Cartoons. To be a real, hearty, deadly enemy of the liberties and religion of the nation was, in that dark conclave, an honourable distinction, a distinction which belonged only to the daring and impetuous Clifford. His associates were men to whom all creeds and all constitutions were alike; who were equally ready to profess the faith of Geneva, of Lambeth, and of Rome; who were equally ready to be tools of power without any sense of loyalty, and stirrers of sedition without any zeal for freedom.
It was hardly possible even for a man so penetrating as De Witt to foresee to what depths of wickedness and infamy this execrable administration would descend. Yet, many signs of the great woe which was coming on Europe, the visit of the Duchess of Orleans to her brother, the unexplained mission of Buckingham to Paris, the sudden occupation of Lorraine by the French, made the Grand Pensionary uneasy; and his alarm increased when he learned that Temple had received orders to repair instantly to London. De Witt earnestly pressed for an explanation. Temple very sincerely replied that he hoped that the English Ministers would adhere to the principles of the Triple Alliance. “I can answer,” he said, “only for myself. But that I can do. If a new system is to be adopted, I will never have any part in it. I have told the King so; and I will make my words good. If I return you will know more: and if I do not return you will guess more.” De Witt smiled, and answered that he would hope the best, and would do all in his power to prevent others from forming unfavourable surmises.
In October, 1670, Temple reached London; and all his worst suspicions were immediately more than confirmed. He repaired to the Secretary’s house, and was kept an hour and a half waiting in the antechamber, whilst Lord Ashley was closeted with Arlington. When at length the doors were thrown open, Arlington was dry and cold, asked trifling questions about the voyage, and then, in order to escape from the necessity of discussing business, called in his daughter, an engaging little girl of three years old, who was long after described by poets “as dressed in all the bloom of smiling nature,” and whom Evelyn, one of the witnesses of her inauspicious marriage, mournfully designated as “the sweetest, hopefullest, most beautiful child, and most virtuous too.” Any particular conversation was impossible: and Temple who, with all his constitutional or philosophical indifference, was sufficiently sensitive on the side of vanity, felt this treatment keenly. The next day he offered himself to the notice of the King, who was snuffing up the morning air and feeding his ducks in the Mall. Charles was civil, but, like Arlington, carefully avoided all conversation on politics. Temple found that all his most respectable friends were entirely excluded from the secrets of the inner council, and were awaiting in anxiety and dread for what those mysterious deliberations might produce. At length he obtained a glimpse of light. The bold spirit and fierce passions of Clifford made him the most unfit of all men to be the keeper of a momentous secret. He told Temple, with great vehemence, that the States had behaved basely, that De Witt was a rogue and a rascal, that it was below the King of England, or any other king, to have any thing to do with such wretches; that this ought to be made known to all the world, and that it was the duty of the Minister at the Hague to declare it publicly. Temple commanded his temper as well as he could, and replied calmly and firmly, that he should make no such declaration, and that, if he were called upon to give his opinion of the States and their Ministers, he would say exactly what he thought.
He now saw clearly that the tempest was gathering fast, that the great alliance which he had formed and over which he had watched with parental care was about to be dissolved, that times were at hand when it would be necessary for him, if he continued in public life, either to take part decidedly against the Court, or to forfeit the high reputation which he enjoyed at home and abroad. He began to make preparations for retiring altogether from business. He enlarged a little garden which he had purchased at Sheen, and laid out some money in ornamenting his house there. He was still nominally ambassador to Holland; and the English Ministers continued during some months to flatter the States with the hope that he would speedily return. At length, in June, 1671, the designs of the Cabal were ripe. The infamous treaty with France had been ratified. The season of deception was past, and that of insolence and violence had arrived. Temple received his formal dismission, kissed the King’s hand, was repaid for his services with some of those vague compliments and promises which cost so little to the cold heart, the easy temper, and the ready tongue of Charles, and quietly withdrew to his little nest, as he called it, at Sheen.
There he amused himself with gardening, which he practised so successfully that the fame of his fruittrees soon spread far and wide. But letters were his chief solace. He had, as we have mentioned, been from his youth in the habit of diverting himself with composition. The clear and agreeable language of his despatches had early attracted the notice of his employers; and, before the peace of Breda, he had, at the request of Arlington, published a pamphlet on the war, of which nothing is now known, except that it had some vogue at the time, and that Charles, not a contemptible judge, pronounced it to be very well written. Temple had also, a short time before he began to reside at the Hague, written a treatise on the state of Ireland, in which he showed all the feelings of a Cromwellian. He had gradually formed a style singularly lucid and melodious, superficially deformed, indeed, by Gallicisms and Hispanicisms, picked up in travel or in negotiation, but at the bottom pure English, which generally flowed along with careless simplicity, but occasionally rose even into Ciceronian magnificence. The length of his sentences has often been remarked. But in truth this length is only apparent. A critic who considers as one sentence every thing that lies between two full stops will undoubtedly call Temple’s sentences long. But a critic who examines them carefully will find that they are not swollen by parenthetical matter, that their structure is scarcely ever intricate, that they are formed merely by accumulation, and that, by the simple process of now and then leaving out a conjunction, and now and then substituting a full stop for a semicolon, they might, without any alteration in the order of the words, be broken up into very short periods, with no sacrifice except that of euphony. The long sentences of Hooker and Clarendon, on the contrary, are really long sentences, and cannot be turned into short ones, without being entirely taken to pieces.
The best known of the works which Temple composed during his first retreat from official business are an Essay on Government, which seems to us exceedingly childish, and an Account of the United Provinces, which we value as a master-piece in its kind. Whoever compares these two treatises will probably agree with us in thinking that Temple was not a very deep or accurate reasoner, but was an excellent observer, that he had no call to philosophical speculation, but that he was qualified to excel as a writer of Memoirs and Travels.
While Temple was engaged in these pursuits, the great storm which had long been brooding over Europe burst with such fury as for a moment seemed to threaten ruin to all free governments and all Protestant churches. France and England, without seeking for any decent pretext, declared war against Holland. The immense armies of Louis poured across the Rhine, and invaded the territory of the United Provinces. The Dutch seemed to be paralysed by terror. Great towns opened their gates to straggling parties. Regiments flung down their arms without seeing an enemy. Guelderland, Overyssel, Utrecht were overrun by the conquerors. The fires of the French camp were seen from the walls of Amsterdam. In the first madness of despair the devoted people turned their rage against the most illustrious of their fellow-citizens. De Ruyter was saved with difficulty from assassins. De Witt was torn to pieces by an infuriated rabble. No hope was left to the Commonwealth, save in the dauntless, the ardent, the indefatigable, the unconquerable spirit which glowed under the frigid demeanour of the young Prince of Orange.
That great man rose at once to the full dignity of his part, and approved himself a worthy descendant of the line of heroes who had vindicated the liberties of Europe against the house of Austria. Nothing could shake his fidelity to his country, not his close connexion with the royal family of England, not the most earnest solicitations, not the most tempting offers. The spirit of the nation, that spirit which had maintained the great conflict against the gigantic power of Philip, revived in all its strength. Counsels, such as are inspired by a generous despair, and are almost always followed by a speedy dawn of hope, were gravely concerted by the statesmen of Holland. To open their dykes, to man their ships, to leave their country, with all its miracles of art and industry, its cities, its canals, its villas, its pastures, and its tulip gardens, buried under the waves of the German ocean, to bear to a distant climate their Calvinistic faith and their old Batavian liberties, to fix, perhaps with happier auspices, the new Stadthouse of their Commonwealth, under other stars, and amidst a strange vegetation, in the Spice Islands of the Eastern seas; such were the plans which they had the spirit to form; and it is seldom that men who have the spirit to form such plans are reduced to the necessity of executing them.
The Allies had, during a short period, obtained success beyond their hopes. This was their auspicious moment. They neglected to improve it. It passed away; and it returned no more. The Prince of Orange arrested the progress of the French armies. Louis returned to be amused and flattered at Versailles. The country was under water. The winter approached. The weather became stormy. The fleets of the combined kings could no longer keep the sea. The republic had obtained a respite; and the circumstances were such that a respite was, in a military view, important, in a political view almost decisive.
The alliance against Holland, formidable as it was, was yet of such a nature that it could not succeed at all, unless it succeeded at once. The English Ministers could not carry on the war without money. They could legally obtain money only from the Parliament; and they were most unwilling to call the Parliament together. The measures which Charles had adopted at home were even more unpopular than his foreign policy. He had bound himself by a treaty with Louis to reestablish the Catholic religion in England; and, in pursuance of this design, he had entered on the same path which his brother afterwards trod with greater obstinacy to a more fatal end. The King had annulled, by his own sole authority, the laws against Catholics and other dissenters. The matter of the Declaration of Indulgence exasperated one half of his subjects, and the manner the other half. Liberal men would have rejoiced to see a toleration granted, at least to all Protestant sects. Many high churchmen had no objection to the King’s dispensing power. But a tolerant act done in an unconstitutional way excited the opposition of all who were zealous either for the Church or for the privileges of the people, that is to say, of ninety-nine Englishmen out of a hundred. The Ministers were, therefore, most unwilling to meet the Houses. Lawless and desperate as their counsels were, the boldest of them had too much value for his neck to think of resorting to benevolences, privy-seals, ship-money, or any of the other unlawful modes of extortion which had been familiar to the preceding age. The audacious fraud of shutting up the Exchequer furnished them with about twelve hundred thousand pounds, a sum which, even in better hands than theirs, would not have sufficed for the war-charges of a single year. And this was a step which could never be repeated, a step which, like most breaches of public faith, was speedily found to have caused pecuniary difficulties greater than those which it removed. All the money that could be raised was gone; Holland was not conquered; and the King had no resource but in a Parliament.
Had a general election taken place at this crisis, it is probable that the country would have sent up representatives as resolutely hostile to the Court as those who met in November, 1640; that the whole domestic and foreign policy of the Government would have been instantly changed; and that the members of the Cabal would have expiated their crimes on Tower Hill. But the House of Commons was still the same which had been elected twelve years before, in the midst of the transports of joy, repentance, and loyalty which followed the Restoration; and no pains had been spared to attach it to the Court by places, pensions, and bribes. To the great mass of the people it was scarcely less odious than the Cabinet itself. Yet, though it did not immediately proceed to those strong measures which a new House would in all probability have adopted, it was sullen and unmanageable, and undid, slowly indeed, and by degrees, but most effectually, all that the Ministers had done. In one session it annihilated their system of internal government. In a second session it gave a death-blow to their foreign policy.
The dispensing power was the first object of attack. The Commons would not expressly approve the war; but neither did they as yet expressly condemn it; and they were even willing to grant the King a supply for the purpose of continuing hostilities, on condition that he would redress internal grievances, among which the Declaration of Indulgence held the foremost place.
Shaftesbury, who was Chancellor, saw that the game was up, that he had got all that was to be got by siding with despotism and Popery, and that it was high time to think of being a demagogue and a good Protestant. The Lord Treasurer Clifford was marked out by his boldness, by his openness, by his zeal for the Catholic religion, by something which, compared with the villany of his colleagues, might almost be called honesty, to be the scapegoat of the whole conspiracy. The King came in person to the House of Peers for the purpose of requesting their Lordships to mediate between him and the Commons touching the Declaration of Indulgence. He remained in the House while his speech was taken into consideration; a common practice with him; for the debates amused his sated mind, and were sometimes, he used to say, as good as a comedy. A more sudden turn his Majesty had certainly never seen in any comedy of intrigue, either at his own play-house, or at the Duke’s, than that which this memorable debate produced. The Lord Treasurer spoke with characteristic ardour and intrepidity in defence of the Declaration. When he sat down the Lord Chancellor rose from the woolsack, and, to the amazement of the King and of the House, attacked Clifford, attacked the Declaration for which he had himself spoken in Council, gave up the whole policy of the Cabinet, and declared himself on the side of the House of Commons. Even that age had not witnessed so portentous a display of impudence.
The King, by the advice of the French Court, which cared much more about the war on the Continent than about the conversion of the English heretics, determined to save his foreign policy at the expense of his plans in favour of the Catholic church. He obtained a supply; and in return for this concession he cancelled the Declaration of Indulgence and made a formal renunciation of the dispensing power before he prorogued the Houses.
But it was no more in his power to go on with the war than to maintain his arbitrary system at home. His Ministry, betrayed within, and fiercely assailed from without, went rapidly to pieces. Clifford threw down the white staff, and retired to the woods of Ugbrook, vowing, with bitter tears, that he would never again see that turbulent city, and that perfidious Court. Shaftesbury was ordered to deliver up the Great Seal, and instantly carried over his front of brass and his tongue of poison to the ranks of the Opposition. The remaining members of the Cabal had neither the capacity of the late Chancellor, nor the courage and enthusiasm of the late Treasurer. They were not only unable to carry on their former projects, but began to tremble for their own lands and heads. The Parliament, as soon as it again met, began to murmur against the alliance with France and the war with Holland; and the murmur gradually swelled into a fierce and terrible clamour. Strong resolutions were adopted against Lauderdale and Buckingham. Articles of impeachment were exhibited against Arlington. The Triple Alliance was mentioned with reverence in every debate; and the eyes of all men were turned towards the quiet orchard, where the author of that great league was amusing himself with reading and gardening.
Temple was ordered to attend the King, and was charged with the office of negotiating a separate peace with Holland. The Spanish Ambassador to the Court of London had been empowered by the States-General to treat in their name. With him Temple came to a speedy agreement; and in three days a treaty was concluded.
The highest honours of the State were now within Temple’s reach. After the retirement of Clifford, the white staff had been delivered to Thomas Osborne, soon after created Earl of Danby, who was related to Lady Temple, and had, many years earlier, travelled and played tennis with Sir William. Danby was an interested and dishonest man, but by no means destitute of abilities or of judgment. He was, indeed, a far better adviser than any in whom Charles had hitherto reposed confidence. Clarendon was a man of another generation, and did not in the least understand the society which he had to govern. The members of the Cabal were ministers of a foreign power, and enemies of the Established Church; and had in consequence raised against themselves and their master an irresistible storm of national and religious hatred. Danby wished to strengthen and extend the prerogative; but he had the sense to see that this could be done only by a complete change of system. He knew the English people and the House of Commons; and he knew that the course which Charles had recently taken, if obstinately pursued, might well end before the windows of the Banqueting-House. He saw that the true policy of the Crown was to ally itself, not with the feeble, the hated, the down-trodden Catholics, but with the powerful, the wealthy, the popular, the dominant Church of England; to trust for aid, not to a foreign Prince whose name was hateful to the British nation, and whose succours could be obtained only on terms of vassalage, but to the old Cavalier party, to the landed gentry, the clergy, and the universities. By rallying round the throne the whole strength of the Royalists and High-Churchmen, and by using without stint all the resources of corruption, he flattered himself that he could manage the Parliament. That he failed is to be attributed less to himself than to his master. Of the disgraceful dealings which were still kept up with the French Court, Danby deserved little or none of the blame, though he suffered the whole punishment.
Danby, with great parliamentary talents, had paid little attention to European politics, and wished for the help of some person on whom he could rely in the foreign department. A plan was accordingly arranged for making Temple Secretary of State. Arlington was the only member of the Cabal who still held office in England. The temper of the House of Commons made it necessary to remove him, or rather to require him to sell out; for at that time the great offices of State were bought and sold as commissions in the army now are. Temple was informed that he should have the Seals if he would pay Arlington six thousand pounds. The transaction had nothing in it discreditable, according to the notions of that age, and the investment would have been a good one; for we imagine that at that time the gains which a Secretary of State might make, without doing any thing considered as improper, were very considerable. Temple’s friends offered to lend him the money; but he was fully determined not to take a post of so much responsibility in times so agitated, and under a Prince on whom so little reliance could be placed, and accepted the embassy to the Hague, leaving Arlington to find another purchaser.
Before Temple left England he had a long audience of the King, to whom he spoke with great severity of the measures adopted by the late Ministry. The King owned that things had turned out ill. “But,” said he, “if I had been well served, I might have made a good business of it.” Temple was alarmed at this language, and inferred from it that the system of the Cabal had not been abandoned, but only suspended. He therefore thought it his duty to go, as he expresses it, “to the bottom of the matter.” He strongly represented to the King the impossibility of establishing either absolute government, or the Catholic religion in England; and concluded by repeating an observation which he had heard at Brussels from M. Gourville, a very intelligent Frenchman well known to Charles: “A king of England,” said Gourville, “who is willing to be the man of his people, is the greatest king in the world, but if he wishes to be more, by heaven he is nothing at all!” The King betrayed some symptoms of impatience during this lecture; but at last he laid his hand kindly on Temple’s shoulder, and said, “You are right, and so is Gourville; and I will be the man of my people.”
With this assurance Temple repaired to the Hague in July, 1674. Holland was now secure, and France was surrounded on every side by enemies. Spain and the Empire was in arms for the purpose of compelling Louis to abandon all that he had acquired since the treaty of the Pyrenees. A congress for the purpose of putting an end to the war was opened at Nimeguen under the mediation of England in 1675; and to that congress Temple was deputed. The work of conciliation, however, went on very slowly. The belligerent powers were still sanguine, and the mediating power was unsteady and insincere.
In the mean time the Opposition in England became more and more formidable, and seemed fully determined to force the King into a war with France. Charles was desirous of making some appointments which might strengthen the administration and conciliate the confidence of the public. No man was more esteemed by the nation than Temple; yet he had never been concerned in any opposition to any government. In July, 1677, he was sent for from Nimeguen. Charles received him with caresses, earnestly pressed him to accept the seals of Secretary of State, and promised to bear half the charge of buying out the present holder. Temple was charmed by the kindness and politeness of the King’s manner, and by the liveliness of his Majesty’s conversation; but his prudence was not to be so laid asleep. He calmly and steadily excused himself. The King affected to treat his excuses as mere jests, and gaily said, “Go; get you gone to Sheen. We shall have no good of you till you have been there; and when you have rested yourself, come up again.” Temple withdrew, and staid two days at his villa, but returned to town in the same mind; and the King was forced to consent at least to a delay.
But while Temple thus carefully shunned the responsibility of bearing a part in the general direction of affairs, he gave a signal proof of that never-failing sagacity which enabled him to find out ways of distinguishing himself without risk. He had a principal share in bringing about an event which was at the time hailed with general satisfaction, and which subsequently produced consequences of the highest importance This was the marriage of the Prince of Orange and the Lady Mary.
In the following year Temple returned to the Hague; and thence he was ordered, in the close of 1678, to repair to Nimeguen, for the purpose of signing the hollow and unsatisfactory treaty by which the distractions of Europe were for a short time suspended. He grumbled much at being required to affix his name to bad articles which he had not framed, and still more at having to travel in very cold weather. After all, a difficulty of etiquette prevented him from signing, and he returned to the Hague. Scarcely had he arrived there when he received intelligence that the King, whose embarrassments were now far greater than ever, was fully resolved immediately to appoint him Secretary of State. He a third time declined that high post, and began to make preparations for a journey to Italy; thinking, doubtless, that he should spend his time much more pleasantly among pictures and ruins than in such a whirlpool of political and religious frenzy as was then raging in London.
But the King was in extreme necessity, and was no longer to be so easily put off. Temple received positive orders to repair instantly to England. He obeyed, and found the country in a state even more fearful than that which he had pictured to himself.
Those are terrible conjunctures, when the discontents of a nation, not light and capricious discontents, but discontents which have been steadily increasing during a long series of years, have attained their full maturity. The discerning few predict the approach of these conjunctures, but predict in vain. To the many, the evil season comes as a total eclipse of the sun at noon comes to a people of savages. Society which, but a short time before, was in a state of perfect repose, is on a sudden agitated with the most fearful convulsions, and seems to be on the verge of dissolution; and the rulers who, till the mischief was beyond the reach of all ordinary remedies, had never bestowed one thought on its existence stand bewildered and panic-stricken, without hope or resource, in the midst of the confusion. One such conjuncture this generation has seen. God grant that we may never see another! At such a conjuncture it was that Temple landed on English ground in the beginning of 1679.
The Parliament had obtained a glimpse of the King’s dealings with France; and their anger had been unjustly directed against Danby, whose conduct as to that matter had been, on the whole, deserving rather of praise than of censure. The Popish Plot, the murder of Godfrey, the infamous inventions of Oates, the discovery of Colman’s letters, had excited the nation to madness. All the disaffection which had been generated by eighteen years of misgovernment had come to the birth together. At this moment the King had been advised to dissolve that Parliament which had been elected just after his restoration, and which, though its composition had since that time been greatly altered, was still far more deeply imbued with the old cavalier spirit than any that had preceded, or that was likely to follow it. The general election had commenced, and was preceding with a degree of excitement never before known. The tide ran furiously against the Court. It was clear that a majority of the New House of Commons would be, to use a word which came into fashion a few months later, decided Whigs. Charles had found it necessary to yield to the violence of the public feeling. The Duke of York was on the point of retiring to Holland. “I never,” says Temple, who had seen the abolition of monarchy, the dissolution of the Long Parliament, the fall of the Protectorate, the declaration of Monk against the Rump, “I never saw greater disturbance in men’s minds.”
The King now with the utmost urgency besought Temple to take the seals. The pecuniary part of the arrangement no longer presented any difficulty; and Sir William was not quite so decided in his refusal as he had formerly been. He took three days to consider the posture of affairs, and to examine his own feelings; and he came to the conclusion that “the scene was unfit for such an actor as he knew himself to be.” Yet he felt that, by refusing help to the King at such a crisis, he might give much offence and incur much censure. He shaped his course with his usual dexterity. He affected to be very desirous of a seat in Parliament; yet he contrived to be an unsuccessful candidate; and, when all the writs were returned, he represented that it would be useless for him to take the seals till he could procure admittance to the House of Commons; and in this manner he succeeded in avoiding the greatness which others desired to thrust upon him.
The Parliament met; and the violence of its proceedings surpassed all expectation. The Long Parliament itself, with much greater provocation, had at its commencement been less violent. The Treasurer was instantly driven from office, impeached, sent to the Tower. Sharp and vehement votes were passed on the subject of the Popish Plot. The Commons were prepared to go much further, to wrest from the King his prerogative of mercy in cases of high political crimes, and to alter the succession to the Crown. Charles was thoroughly perplexed and dismayed. Temple saw him almost daily, and thought him impressed with a deep sense of his errors, and of the miserable state into which they had brought him. Their conferences became longer and more confidential: and Temple began to flatter himself with the hope that he might be able to reconcile parties at home as he had reconciled hostile States abroad; that he might be able to suggest a plan which should allay all heats, efface the memory of all past grievances, secure the nation from misgovernment, and protect the Crown against the encroachments of Parliament.
Temple’s plan was that the existing Privy Council, which consisted of fifty members, should be dissolved, that there should no longer be a small interior council, like that which is now designated as the Cabinet, that a new Privy Council of thirty members should be appointed, and that the King should pledge himself to govern by the constant advice of this body, to suffer all his affairs of every kind to be freely debated there, and not to reserve any part of the public business for a secret committee.
Fifteen of the members of this new council were to be great officers of State. The other fifteen were to be independent noblemen and gentlemen of the greatest weight in the country. In appointing them particular regard was to be had to the amount of their property. The whole annual income of the counsellors was estimated at 300,000l. The annual income of all the members of the House of Commons was not supposed to exceed 400,000l. The appointment of wealthy counsellors Temple describes as “a chief regard, necessary to this Constitution.”
This plan was the subject of frequent conversation between the King and Temple. After a month passed in discussions to which no third person appears to have been privy Charles declared himself satisfied of the expediency of the proposed measure, and resolved to carry it into effect.
It is much to be regretted that Temple has left us no account of these conferences. Historians have, therefore, been left to form their own conjectures as to the object of this very extraordinary plan, “this Constitution,” as Temple himself calls it. And we cannot say that any explanation which has yet been given seems to us quite satisfactory. Indeed, almost all the writers whom we have consulted appear to consider the change as merely a change of administration, and so considering it, they generally applaud it. Mr. Courtenay, who has evidently examined this subject with more attention than has often been bestowed upon it, seems to think Temple’s scheme very strange, unintelligible, and absurd. It is with very great diffidence that we offer our own solution of what we have always thought one of the great riddles of English history. We are strongly inclined to suspect that the appointment of the new Privy Council was really a much more remarkable event than has generally been supposed, and that what Temple had in view was to effect, under colour of a change of administration, a permanent change in the Constitution.
The plan, considered merely as a plan for the formation of a Cabinet, is so obviously inconvenient, that we cannot easily believe this to have been Temple’s chief object. The number of the new Council alone would be a most serious objection. The largest cabinets of modern times have not, we believe, consisted of more than fifteen members. Even this number has generally been thought too large. The Marquess Wellesley, whose judgment on a question of executive administration is entitled to as much respect as that of any statesman that England ever produced, expressed, during the ministerial negotiations of the year 1812, his conviction that even thirteen was an inconveniently large number. But in a Cabinet of thirty members what chance could there be of finding unity, secrecy, expedition, any of the qualities which such a body ought to possess? If, indeed, the members of such a Cabinet were closely bound together by interest, if they all had a deep stake in the permanence of the Administration, if the majority were dependent on a small number of leading men, the thirty might perhaps act as a smaller number would act, though more slowly, more awkwardly, and with more risk of improper disclosures. But the Council which Temple proposed was so framed that if, instead of thirty members, it had contained only ten, it would still have been the most unwieldy and discordant Cabinet that ever sat. One half of the members were to be persons holding no office, persons who had no motive to compromise their opinions, or to take any share of the responsibility of an unpopular measure, persons, therefore, who might be expected, as often as there might be a crisis requiring the most cordial co-operation, to draw off from the rest, and to throw every difficulty in the way of the public business. The circumstance that they were men of enormous private wealth only made the matter worse. The House of Commons is a checking body; and therefore it is desirable that it should, to a great extent, consist of men of independent fortune, who receive nothing and expect nothing from the Government. But with executive boards the case is quite different. Their business is not to check, but to act. The very same things, therefore, which are the virtues of Parliaments may be vices in Cabinets. We can hardly conceive a greater curse to the country than an Administration, the members of which should be as perfectly independent of each other, and as little under the necessity of making mutual concessions, as the representatives of London and Devonshire in the House of Commons are and ought to be. Now Temple’s new Council was to contain fifteen members, who were to hold no offices, and the average amount of whose private estates was ten thousand pounds a year, an income which, in proportion to the wants of a man of rank of that period, was at least equal to thirty thousand a year in our time. Was it to be expected that such men would gratuitously take on themselves the labour and responsibility of Ministers, and the unpopularity which the best Ministers must sometimes be prepared to brave? Could there be any doubt that an Opposition would soon be formed within the Cabinet itself, and that the consequence would be disunion, altercation, tardiness in operations, the divulging of secrets, every thing most alien from the nature of an executive council?
Is it possible to imagine that considerations so grave and so obvious should have altogether escaped the notice of a man of Temple’s sagacity and experience? One of two things appears to us to be certain, either that his project has been misunderstood, or that his talents for public affairs have been overrated.
We lean to the opinion that his project has been misunderstood. His new Council, as we have shown, would have been an exceedingly bad Cabinet. The inference which we are inclined to draw is this, that he meant his Council to serve some other purpose than that of a mere Cabinet. Barillon used four or five words which contain, we think, the key of the whole mystery. Mr. Courtenay calls them pithy words; but he does not, if we are right, apprehend their whole force. “Ce sont,” said Barillon, “des États, non des conseils.”
In order clearly to understand what we imagine to have been Temple’s views, the reader must remember that the Government of England was at that moment, and had been during nearly eighty years, in a state of transition. A change, not the less real or the less extensive because disguised under ancient names and forms, was in constant progress. The theory of the Constitution, the fundamental laws which fix the powers of the three branches of the legislature, underwent no material change between the time of Elizabeth and the time of William the Third. The most celebrated laws of the seventeenth century on those subjects, the Petition of Right, the Declaration of Right, are purely declaratory. They purport to be merely recitals of the old polity of England. They do not establish free government as a salutary improvement, but claim it as an undoubted and immemorial inheritance. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that, during the period of which we speak, all the mutual relations of all the orders of the State did practically undergo an entire change. The letter of the law might be unaltered; but, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the power of the Crown was, in fact, decidedly predominant in the State; and at the end of that century the power of Parliament, and especially of the Lower House, had become, in fact, decidedly predominant. At the beginning of the century, the sovereign perpetually violated, with little or no opposition, the clear privileges of Parliament. At the close of the century, the Parliament had virtually drawn to itself just as much as it chose of the prerogative of the Crown. The sovereign retained the shadow of that authority of which the Tudors had held the substance. He had a legislative veto which he never ventured to exercise, a power of appointing Ministers whom an address of the Commons could at any moment force him to discard, a power of declaring war which, without Parliamentary support, could not be carried on for a single day. The Houses of Parliament were now not merely legislative assemblies, not merely checking assemblies. They were great Councils of State, whose voice, when loudly and firmly raised, was decisive on all questions of foreign and domestic policy. There was no part of the whole system of Government with which they had not power to interfere by advice equivalent to command; and, if they abstained from intermeddling with some departments of the executive administration, they were withheld from doing so only by their own moderation, and by the confidence which they reposed in the Ministers of the Crown. There is perhaps no other instance in history of a change so complete in the real constitution of an empire, unaccompanied by any corresponding change in the theoretical constitution. The disguised transformation of the Roman commonwealth into a despotic monarchy, under the long administration of Augustus, is perhaps the nearest parallel.
This great alteration did not take place without strong and constant resistance on the part of the kings of the house of Stuart. Till 1642, that resistance was generally of an open, violent, and lawless nature. If the Commons refused supplies, the sovereign levied a benevolence. If the Commons impeached a favourite minister, the sovereign threw the chiefs of the Opposition into prison. Of these efforts to keep down the Parliament by despotic force, without the pretext of law, the last, the most celebrated, and the most wicked was the attempt to seize the five members. That attempt was the signal for civil war, and was followed by eighteen years of blood and confusion.
The days of trouble passed by; the exiles returned; the throne was again set up in its high place; the peerage and the hierarchy recovered their ancient splendour. The fundamental laws which had been recited in the Petition of Right were again solemnly recognised. The theory of the English constitution was the same on the day when the hand of Charles the Second was kissed by the kneeling Houses at Whitehall as on the day when his father set up the royal standard at Nottingham. There was a short period of doting fondness, a hysterica passio of loyal repentance and love. But emotions of this sort are transitory; and the interests on which depends the progress of great societies are permanent. The transport of reconciliation was soon over; and the old struggle recommenced.
The old struggle recommenced; but not precisely after the old fashion. The sovereign was not indeed a man whom any common warning would have restrained from the grossest violations of law. But it was no common warning that he had received. All around him were the recent signs of the vengeance of an oppressed nation, the fields on which the noblest blood of the island had been poured forth, the castles shattered by the cannon of the Parliamentary armies, the hall where sat the stern tribunal to whose bar had been led, through lowering ranks of pikemen, the captive heir of a hundred kings, the stately pilasters before which the great execution had been so fearlessly done in the face of heaven and earth. The restored Prince, admonished by the fate of his father, never ventured to attack his Parliaments with open and arbitrary violence. It was at one time by means of the Parliament itself, at another time by means of the courts of law, that he attempted to regain for the Crown its old predominance. He began with great advantages. The Parliament of 1661 was called while the nation was still full of joy and tenderness. The great majority of the House of Commons were zealous royalists. All the means of influence which the patronage of the Crown afforded were used without limit. Bribery was reduced to a system. The King, when he could spare money from his pleasures for nothing else, could spare it for purposes of corruption. While the defence of the coasts was neglected, while ships rotted, while arsenals lay empty, while turbulent crowds of unpaid seamen swarmed in the streets of the seaports, something could still be scraped together in the Treasury for the members of the House of Commons. The gold of France was largely employed for the same purpose. Yet it was found, as indeed might have been foreseen, that there is a natural limit to the effect which can be produced by means like these. There is one thing which the most corrupt senates are unwilling to sell; and that is the power which makes them worth buying. The same selfish motives which induced them to take a price for a particular vote induce them to oppose every measure of which the effect would be to lower the importance, and consequently the price, of their votes. About the income of their power, so to speak, they are quite ready to make bargains. But they are not easily persuaded to part with any fragment of the principal. It is curious to observe how, during the long continuance of this Parliament, the Pensionary Parliament as it was nicknamed by contemporaries, though every circumstance seemed to be favourable to the Crown, the power of the Crown was constantly sinking, and that of the Commons constantly rising. The meetings of the Houses were more frequent than in former reigns; their interference was more harassing to the Government than in former reigns; they had begun to make peace, to make war, to pull down, if they did not set up, administrations. Already a new class of statesmen had appeared, unheard of before that time, but common ever since. Under the Tudors and the earlier Stuarts, it was generally by courtly arts, or by official skill and knowledge, that a politician raised himself to power. From the time of Charles the Second down to our own days a different species of talent, parliamentary talent, has been the most valuable of all the qualifications of an English statesman. It has stood in the place of all other acquirements. It has covered ignorance, weakness, rashness, the most fatal maladministration. A great negotiator is nothing when compared with a great debater; and a Minister who can make a successful speech need trouble himself little about an unsuccessful expedition. This is the talent which has made judges without law, and diplomatists without French, which has sent to the Admiralty men who did not know the stern of a ship from her bowsprit, and to the India Board men who did not know the difference between a rupee and a pagoda, which made a foreign secretary of Mr. Pitt, who, as George the Second said, had never opened Vattel, and which was very near making a Chancellor of the Exchequer of Mr. Sheridan, who could not work a sum in long division. This was the sort of talent which raised Clifford from obscurity to the head of affairs. To this talent Osborne, by birth a simple country gentleman, owed his white staff, his garter, and his dukedom. The encroachment of the power of the Parliament on the power of the Crown resembled a fatality, or the operation of some great law of nature. The will of the individual on the throne, or of the individuals in the two Houses, seemed to go for nothing. The King might be eager to encroach; yet something constantly drove him back. The Parliament might be loyal, even servile; yet something constantly urged them forward.
These things were done in the green tree. What then was likely to be done in the dry? The Popish Plot and the general election came together, and found a people predisposed to the most violent excitation. The composition of the House of Commons was changed. The Legislature was filled with men who leaned to Republicanism in politics, and to Presbyterianism in religion. They no sooner met than they commenced an attack on the Government which, if successful, must have made them supreme in the State.
Where was this to end? To us who have seen the solution the question presents few difficulties. But to a statesman of the age of Charles the Second, to a statesman who wished, without depriving the Parliament of its privileges, to maintain the monarch in his old supremacy, it must have appeared very perplexing.
Clarendon had, when Minister, struggled, honestly, perhaps, but, as was his wont, obstinately, proudly, and offensively, against the growing power of the Commons. He was for allowing them their old authority, and not one atom more. He would never have claimed for the Crown a right to levy taxes from the people without the consent of Parliament. But when the Parliament, in the first Dutch war, most properly insisted on knowing how it was that the money which they had voted had produced so little effect, and began to inquire through what hands it had passed, and on what services it had been expended, Clarendon considered this as a monstrous innovation. He told the King, as he himself says, “that he could not be too indulgent in the defence of the privileges of Parliament, and that he hoped he would never violate any of them; but he desired him to be equally solicitous to prevent the excesses in Parliament, and not to suffer them to extend their jurisdiction to cases they have nothing to do with; and that to restrain them within their proper bounds and limits is as necessary as it is to preserve them from being invaded; and that this was such a new encroachment as had no bottom.” This is a single instance. Others might easily be given.
The bigotry, the strong passions, the haughty and disdainful temper, which made Clarendon’s great abilities a source of almost unmixed evil to himself and to the public, had no place in the character of Temple. To Temple, however, as well as to Clarendon, the rapid change which was taking place in the real working of the Constitution gave great disquiet; particularly as Temple had never sat in the English Parliament, and therefore regarded it with none of the predilection which men naturally feel for a body to which they belong, and for a theatre on which their own talents have been advantageously displayed.
To wrest by force from the House of Commons its newly acquired powers was impossible; nor was Temple a man to recommend such a stroke, even if it had been possible. But was it possible that the House of Commons might be induced to let those powers drop? Was it possible that, as a great revolution had been effected without any change in the outward form of the Government, so a great counter-revolution might be effected in the same manner? Was it possible that the Crown and the Parliament might be placed in nearly the same relative position in which they had stood in the reign of Elizabeth, and that this might be done without one sword drawn, without one execution, and with the general acquiescence of the nation?
The English people — it was probably thus that Temple argued — will not bear to be governed by the unchecked power of the sovereign, nor ought they to be so governed. At present there is no check but the Parliament. The limits which separate the power of checking those who govern from the power of governing are not easily to be defined. The Parliament, therefore, supported by the nation, is rapidly drawing to itself all the powers of Government. If it were possible to frame some other check on the power of the Crown, some check which might be less galling to the sovereign than that by which he is now constantly tormented, and yet which might appear to the people to be a tolerable security against maladministration, Parliaments would probably meddle less; and they would be less supported by public opinion in their meddling. That the King’s hands may not be rudely tied by others, he must consent to tie them lightly himself. That the executive administration may not be usurped by the checking body, something of the character of a checking body must be given to the body which conducts the executive administration. The Parliament is now arrogating to itself every day a larger share of the functions of the Privy Council. We must stop the evil by giving to the Privy Council something of the constitution of a Parliament. Let the nation see that all the King’s measures are directed by a Cabinet composed of representatives of every order in the State, by a Cabinet which contains, not placemen alone, but independent and popular noblemen and gentlemen who have large estates and no salaries, and who are not likely to sacrifice the public welfare in which they have a deep stake, and the credit which they have obtained with the country, to the pleasure of a Court from which they receive nothing. When the ordinary administration is in such hands as these, the people will be quite content to see the Parliament become, what it formerly was, an extraordinary check. They will be quite willing that the House of Commons should meet only once in three years for a short session, and should take as little part in matters of state as it did a hundred years ago.
Thus we believe that Temple reasoned: for on this hypothesis his scheme is intelligible; and on any other hypothesis his scheme appears to us, as it does to Mr. Courtenay, exceedingly absurd and unmeaning. This Council was strictly what Barillon called it, an Assembly of States. There are the representatives of all the great sections of the community, of the Church, of the law, of the Peerage, of the Commons. The exclusion of one half of the counsellors from office under the Crown, an exclusion which is quite absurd when we consider the Council merely as an executive board, becomes at once perfectly reasonable when we consider the Council as a body intended to restrain the Crown as well as to exercise the powers of the Crown, to perform some of the functions of a Parliament as well as the functions of a Cabinet. We see, too, why Temple dwelt so much on the private wealth of the members, why he instituted a comparison between their united incomes and the united incomes of the members of the House of Commons. Such a parallel would have been idle in the case of a mere Cabinet. It is extremely significant in the case of a body intended to supersede the House of Commons in some very important functions.
We can hardly help thinking that the notion of this Parliament on a small scale was suggested to Temple by what he had himself seen in the United Provinces. The original Assembly of the States-General consisted, as he tells us, of above eight hundred persons. But this great body was represented by a smaller Council of about thirty, which bore the name and exercised the powers of the States-General. At last the real States altogether ceased to meet; and their power, though still a part of the theory of the Constitution, became obsolete in practice. We do not, of course, imagine that Temple either expected or wished that Parliaments should be thus disused; but he did expect, we think, that something like what had happened in Holland would happen in England, and that a large portion of the functions lately assumed by Parliament would be quietly transferred to the miniature Parliament which he proposed to create.
Had this plan, with some modifications, been tried at an earlier period, in a more composed state of the public mind, and by a better sovereign, we are by no means certain that it might not have effected the purpose for which it was designed. The restraint imposed on the King by the Council of Thirty, whom he had himself chosen, would have been feeble indeed when compared with the restraint imposed by Parliament. But it would have been more constant. It would have acted every year, and all the year round; and before the Revolution the sessions of Parliament were short and the recesses long. The advice of the Council would probably have prevented any very monstrous and scandalous measures; and would consequently have prevented the discontents which follow such measures, and the salutary laws which are the fruit of such discontents. We believe, for example, that the second Dutch war would never have been approved by such a Council as that which Temple proposed. We are quite certain that the shutting up of the Exchequer would never even have been mentioned in such a Council. The people, pleased to think that Lord Russell, Lord Cavendish, and Mr. Powle, unplaced and unpensioned, were daily representing their grievances and defending their rights in the Royal presence, would not have pined quite so much for the meeting of Parliaments. The Parliament, when it met, would have found fewer and less glaring abuses to attack. There would have been less misgovernment and less reform. We should not have been cursed with the Cabal, or blessed with the Habeas Corpus Act. In the mean time the Council, considered as an executive Council, would, unless some at least of its powers had been delegated to a smaller body, have been feeble, dilatory, divided, unfit for every thing which requires secrecy and despatch, and peculiarly unfit for the administration of war.
The Revolution put an end, in a very different way, to the long contest between the King and the Parliament. From that time, the House of Commons has been predominant in the State. The Cabinet has really been, from that time, a committee nominated by the Crown out of the prevailing party in Parliament. Though the minority in the Commons are constantly proposing to condemn executive measures, or to call for papers which may enable the House to sit in judgment on such measures, these propositions are scarcely ever carried; and, if a proposition of this kind is carried against the Government, a change of Ministry almost necessarily follows. Growing and struggling power always gives more annoyance and is more unmanageable than established power. The House of Commons gave infinitely more trouble to the Ministers of Charles the Second than to any Ministers of later times; for, in the time of Charles the Second, the House was checking Ministers in whom it did not confide. Now that its ascendency is fully established, it either confides in Ministers or turns them out. This is undoubtedly a far better state of things than that which Temple wished to introduce. The modern Cabinet is a far better Executive Council than his. The worst House of Commons that has sate since the Revolution was a far more efficient check on misgovernment than his fifteen independent counsellors would have been. Yet, every thing considered, it seems to us that his plan was the work of an observant, ingenious, and fertile mind.
On this occasion, as on every occasion on which he came prominently forward, Temple had the rare good fortune to please the public as well as the Sovereign. The general exultation was great when it was known that the old Council, made up of the most odious tools of power, was dismissed, that small interior committees, rendered odious by the recent memory of the Cabal, were to be disused, and that the King would adopt no measure till it had been discussed and approved by a body, of which one half consisted of independent gentlemen and noblemen, and in which such persons as Russell, Cavendish, and Temple himself had seats. Town and country were in a ferment of joy. The bells were rung; bonfires were lighted; and the acclamations of England were echoed by the Dutch, who considered the influence obtained by Temple as a certain omen of good for Europe. It is, indeed, much to the honour of his sagacity that every one of his great measures should, in such times, have pleased every party which he had any interest in pleasing. This was the case with the Triple Alliance, with the treaty which concluded the second Dutch war, with the marriage of the Prince of Orange, and, finally, with the institution of this new Council.
The only people who grumbled were those popular leaders of the House of Commons who were not among the Thirty; and, if our view of the measure be correct, they were precisely the people who had good reason to grumble. They were precisely the people whose activity and whose influence the new Council was intended to destroy.
But there was very soon an end of the bright hopes and loud applauses with which the publication of this scheme had been hailed. The perfidious levity of the King and the ambition of the chiefs of parties produced the instant, entire, and irremediable failure of a plan which nothing but firmness, public spirit, and self-denial, on the part of all concerned in it could conduct to a happy issue. Even before the project was divulged, its author had already found reason to apprehend that it would fail. Considerable difficulty was experienced in framing the list of counsellors. There were two men in particular about whom the King and Temple could not agree, two men deeply tainted with the vices common to the English statesmen of that age, but unrivalled in talents, address, and influence. These were the Earl of Shaftesbury, and George Savile Viscount Halifax.
It was a favourite exercise among the Greek sophists to write panegyrics on characters proverbial for depravity. One professor of rhetoric sent to Isocrates a panegyric on Busiris; and Isocrates himself wrote another which has come down to us. It is, we presume, from an ambition of the same kind that some writers have lately shown a disposition to eulogize Shaftesbury. But the attempt is vain. The charges against him rest on evidence not to be invalidated by any arguments which human wit can devise, or by any information which may be found in old trunks and escrutoires.
It is certain that, just before the Restoration, he declared to the Regicides that he would be damned, body and soul, rather than suffer a hair of their heads to be hurt, and that, just after the Restoration, he was one of the judges who sentenced them to death. It is certain that he was a principal member of the most profligate Administration ever known, and that he was afterwards a principal member of the most profligate Opposition ever known. It is certain that, in power, he did not scruple to violate the great fundamental principle of the Constitution, in order to exalt the Catholics, and that, out of power, he did not scruple to violate every principle of justice, in order to destroy them. There were in that age some honest men, such as William Penn, who valued toleration so highly that they would willingly have seen it established even by an illegal exertion of the prerogative. There were many honest men who dreaded arbitrary power so much that, on account of the alliance between Popery and arbitrary power, they were disposed to grant no toleration to Papists. On both those classes we look with indulgence, though we think both in the wrong. But Shaftesbury belonged to neither class. He united all that was worst in both. From the misguided friends of toleration he borrowed their contempt for the Constitution, and from the misguided friends of civil liberty their contempt for the rights of conscience. We never can admit that his conduct as a member of the Cabal was redeemed by his conduct as a leader of Opposition. On the contrary, his life was such that every part of it, as if by a skilful contrivance, reflects infamy on every other. We should never have known how abandoned a prostitute he was in place, if we had not known how desperate an incendiary he was out of it. To judge of him fairly, we must bear in mind that the Shaftesbury who, in office, was the chief author of the Declaration of Indulgence, was the same Shaftesbury who, out of office, excited and kept up the savage hatred of the rabble of London against the very class to whom that Declaration of Indulgence was intended to give illegal relief.
It is amusing to see the excuses that are made for him. We will give two specimens. It is acknowledged that he was one of the Ministry which made the alliance with France against Holland, and that this alliance was most pernicious. What, then, is the defence? Even this, that he betrayed his master’s counsels to the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, and tried to rouse all the Protestant powers of Germany to defend the States. Again, it is acknowledged that he was deeply concerned in the Declaration of Indulgence, and that his conduct on this occasion was not only unconstitutional, but quite inconsistent with the course which he afterwards took respecting the professors of the Catholic faith. What, then, is the defence? Even this, that he meant only to allure concealed Papists to avow themselves, and thus to become open marks for the vengeance of the public. As often as he is charged with one treason, his advocates vindicate him by confessing two. They had better leave him where they find him. For him there is no escape upwards. Every outlet by which he can creep out of his present position is one which lets him down into a still lower and fouler depth of infamy. To whitewash an Ethiopian is a proverbially hopeless attempt; but to whitewash an Ethiopian by giving him a new coat of blacking is an enterprise more extraordinary still. That in the course of Shaftesbury’s dishonest and revengeful opposition to the Court he rendered one or two most useful services to his country we admit. And he is, we think, fairly entitled, if that be any glory, to have his name eternally associated with the Habeas Corpus Act in the same way in which the name of Henry the Eighth is associated with the reformation of the Church, and that of Jack Wilkes with the most sacred rights of electors.
While Shaftesbury was still living, his character was elaborately drawn by two of the greatest writers of the age, by Butler, with characteristic brilliancy of wit, by Dryden, with even more than characteristic energy and loftiness, by both with all the inspiration of hatred. The sparkling illustrations of Butler have been thrown into the shade by the brighter glory of that gorgeous satiric Muse, who comes sweeping by in sceptred pall, borrowed from her more august sisters. But the descriptions well deserve to be compared. The reader will at once perceive a considerable difference between Butler’s
and the Ahithophel of Dryden. Butler dwells on Shaftesbury’s unprincipled versatility; on his wonderful and almost instinctive skill in discerning the approach of a change of fortune; and on the dexterity with which he extricated himself from the snares in which he left his associates to perish.
In Dryden’s great portrait, on the contrary, violent passion, implacable revenge, boldness amounting to temerity, are the most striking features. Ahithophel is one of the “great wits to madness near allied.” And again —
The dates of the two poems will, we think, explain this discrepancy. The third part of Hudibras appeared in 1678, when the character of Shaftesbury had as yet but imperfectly developed itself. He had, indeed, been a traitor to every party in the State; but his treasons had hitherto prospered. Whether it were accident or sagacity, he had timed his desertions in such a manner that fortune seemed to go to and fro with him from side to side. The extent of his perfidy was known; but it was not till the Popish Plot furnished him with a machinery which seemed sufficiently powerful for all his purposes, that the audacity of his spirit, and the fierceness of his malevolent passions, became fully manifest. His subsequent conduct showed undoubtedly great ability, but not ability of the sort for which he had formerly been so eminent. He was now headstrong, sanguine, full of impetuous confidence in his own wisdom and his own good luck. He, whose fame as a political tactician had hitherto rested chiefly on his skilful retreats, now set himself to break down all the bridges behind him. His plans were castles in the air: his talk was rodomontade. He took no thought for the morrow: he treated the Court as if the King were already a prisoner in his hands: he built on the favour of the multitude, as if that favour were not proverbially inconstant. The signs of the coming reaction were discerned by men of far less sagacity than his, and scared from his side men more consistent than he had ever pretended to be. But on him they were lost. The counsel of Ahithophel, that counsel which was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God, was turned into foolishness. He who had become a by-word, for the certainty with which he foresaw and the suppleness with which he evaded danger, now, when beset on every side with snares and death, seemed to be smitten with a blindness as strange as his former clear-sightedness, and, turning neither to the right nor to the left, strode straight on with desperate hardihood to his doom. Therefore, after having early acquired and long preserved the reputation of infallible wisdom and invariable success, he lived to see a mighty ruin wrought by his own ungovernable passions, to see the great party which he had led vanquished, and scattered, and trampled down, to see all his own devilish enginery of lying witnesses, partial sheriffs, packed juries, unjust judges, bloodthirsty mobs, ready to be employed against himself and his most devoted followers, to fly from that proud city whose favour had almost raised him to be Mayor of the Palace, to hide himself in squalid retreats, to cover his grey head with ignominious disguises; and he died in hopeless exile, sheltered, by the generosity of a State which he had cruelly injured and insulted, from the vengeance of a master whose favour he had purchased by one series of crimes, and forfeited by another.
Halifax had, in common with Shaftesbury, and with almost all the politicians of that age, a very loose morality where the public was concerned; but in Halifax the prevailing infection was modified by a very peculiar constitution both of heart and head, by a temper singularly free from gall, and by a refining and sceptical understanding. He changed his course as often as Shaftesbury; but he did not change it to the same extent, or in the same direction. Shaftesbury was the very reverse of a trimmer. His disposition led him generally to do his utmost to exalt the side which was up, and to depress the side which was down. His transitions were from extreme to extreme. While he stayed with a party he went all lengths for it: when he quitted it he went all lengths against it. Halifax was emphatically a trimmer; a trimmer both by intellect and by constitution. The name was fixed on him by his contemporaries; and he was so far from being ashamed of it that he assumed it as a badge of honour. He passed from faction to faction. But, instead of adopting and inflaming the passions of those whom he joined, he tried to diffuse among them something of the spirit of those whom he had just left. While he acted with the Opposition he was suspected of being a spy of the Court; and when he had joined the Court all the Tories were dismayed by his Republican doctrines.
He wanted neither arguments nor eloquence to exhibit what was commonly regarded as his wavering policy in the fairest light. He trimmed, he said, as the temperate zone trims between intolerable heat and intolerable cold, as a good government trims between despotism and anarchy, as a pure church trims between the errors of the Papist and those of the Anabaptist. Nor was this defence by any means without weight; for, though there is abundant proof that his integrity was not of strength to withstand the temptations by which his cupidity and vanity were sometimes assailed, yet his dislike of extremes, and a forgiving and compassionate temper which seems to have been natural to him, preserved him from all participation in the worst crimes of his time. If both parties accused him of deserting them, both were compelled to admit that they had great obligations to his humanity, and that, though an uncertain friend, he was a placable enemy. He voted in favour of Lord Stafford, the victim of the Whigs: he did his utmost to save Lord Russell, the victim of the Tories; and, on the whole, we are inclined to think that his public life, though far indeed from faultless, has as few great stains as that of any politician who took an active part in affairs during the troubled and disastrous period of ten years which elapsed between the fall of Lord Danby and the Revolution.
His mind was much less turned to particular observations, and much more to general speculations, than that of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury knew the King, the Council, the Parliament, the city, better than Halifax; but Halifax would have written a far better treatise on political science than Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury shone more in consultation, and Halifax in controversy: Shaftesbury was more fertile in expedients, and Halifax in arguments. Nothing that remains from the pen of Shaftesbury will bear a comparison with the political tracts of Halifax. Indeed, very little of the prose of that age is so well worth reading as the Character of a Trimmer and the Anatomy of an Equivalent. What particularly strikes us in those works is the writer’s passion for generalisation. He was treating of the most exciting subjects in the most agitated times: he was himself placed in the very thick of the civil conflict; yet there is no acrimony, nothing inflammatory, nothing personal. He preserves an air of cold superiority, a certain philosophical serenity, which is perfectly marvellous. He treats every question as an abstract question, begins with the widest propositions, argues those propositions on general grounds, and often, when he has brought out his theorem, leaves the reader to make the application, without adding an allusion to particular men or to passing events. This speculative turn of mind rendered him a bad adviser in cases which required celerity. He brought forward, with wonderful readiness and copiousness, arguments, replies to those arguments, rejoinders to those replies, general maxims of policy, and analogous cases from history. But Shaftesbury was the man for a prompt decision. Of the parliamentary eloquence of these celebrated rivals, we can judge only by report; and, so judging, we should be inclined to think that, though Shaftesbury was a distinguished speaker, the superiority belonged to Halifax. Indeed the readiness of Halifax in debate, the extent of his knowledge, the ingenuity of his reasoning, the liveliness of his expression, and the silver clearness and sweetness of his voice, seem to have made the strongest impression on his contemporaries. By Dryden he is described as
His oratory is utterly and irretrievably lost to us, like that of Somers, of Bolingbroke, of Charles Townshend, of many others who were accustomed to rise amidst the breathless expectation of senates, and to sit down amidst reiterated bursts of applause. But old men who lived to admire the eloquence of Pulteney in its meridian, and that of Pitt in its spendid dawn, still murmured that they had heard nothing like the great speeches of Lord Halifax on the Exclusion Bill. The power of Shaftesbury over large masses was unrivalled. Halifax was disqualified by his whole character, moral and intellectual, for the part of a demagogue. It was in small circles, and, above all, in the House of Lords, that his ascendency was felt.
Shaftesbury seems to have troubled himself very little about theories of government. Halifax was, in speculation, a strong republican, and did not conceal it. He often made hereditary monarchy and aristocracy the subjects of his keen pleasantry, while he was fighting the battles of the Court, and obtaining for himself step after step in the peerage. In this way, he tried to gratify at once his intellectual vanity and his more vulgar ambition. He shaped his life according to the opinion of the multitude, and indemnified himself by talking according to his own. His colloquial powers were great; his perception of the ridiculous exquisitely fine; and he seems to have had the rare art of preserving the reputation of good breeding and good nature, while habitually indulging a strong propensity to mockery.
Temple wished to put Halifax into the new council, and to leave out Shaftesbury. The King objected strongly to Halifax, to whom he had taken a great dislike, which is not accounted for, and which did not last long. Temple replied that Halifax was a man eminent both by his station and by his abilities, and would, if excluded, do every thing against the new arrangement that could be done by eloquence, sarcasm, and intrigue. All who were consulted were of the same mind; and the King yielded, but not till Temple had almost gone on his knees. This point was no sooner settled than his Majesty declared that he would have Shaftesbury too. Temple again had recourse to entreaties and expostulations. Charles told him that the enmity of Shaftesbury would be at least as formidable as that of Halifax; and this was true; but Temple might have replied that by giving power to Halifax they gained a friend, and that by giving power to Shaftesbury, they only strengthened an enemy. It was vain to argue and protest. The King only laughed and jested at Temple’s anger; and Shaftesbury was not only sworn of the Council, but appointed Lord President.
Temple was so bitterly mortified by this step that he had at one time resolved to have nothing to do with the new Administration, and seriously thought of disqualifying himself from sitting in council by omitting to take the Sacrament. But the urgency of Lady Temple and Lady Giffard induced him to abandon that intention.
The Council was organized on the twenty-first of April, 1679; and, within a few hours, one of the fundamental principles on which it had been constructed was violated. A secret committee, or, in the modern phrase, a cabinet of nine members, was formed. But, as this committee included Shaftesbury and Monmouth, it contained within itself the elements of as much faction as would have sufficed to impede all business. Accordingly there soon arose a small interior cabinet, consisting of Essex, Sunderland, Halifax, and Temple. For a time perfect harmony and confidence subsisted between the four. But the meetings of the thirty were stormy. Sharp retorts passed between Shaftesbury and Halifax, who led the opposite parties. In the Council Halifax generally had the advantage. But it soon became apparent that Shaftesbury still had at his back the majority of the House of Commons. The discontents which the change of Ministry had for a moment quieted broke forth again with redoubled violence; and the only effect which the late measures appeared to have produced was that the Lord President, with all the dignity and authority belonging to his high place, stood at the head of the Opposition. The impeachment of Lord Danby was eagerly prosecuted. The Commons were determined to exclude the Duke of York from the throne. All offers of compromise were rejected. It must not be forgotten, however, that, in the midst of the confusion, one inestimable law, the only benefit which England has derived from the troubles of that period, but a benefit which may well be set off against a great mass of evil, the Habeas Corpus Act, was pushed through the Houses and received the royal assent.
The King, finding the Parliament as troublesome as ever, determined to prorogue it; and he did so without even mentioning his intention to the Council by whose advice he had pledged himself, only a month before, to conduct the Government. The counsellors were generally dissatisfied; and Shaftesbury swore with great vehemence, that, if he could find out who the secret advisers were, he would have their heads.
The Parliament rose; London was deserted; and Temple retired to his villa, whence, on council days, he went to Hampton Court. The post of Secretary was again and again pressed on him by his master and by his three colleagues of the inner Cabinet. Halifax, in particular, threatened laughingly to burn down the house at Sheen. But Temple was immovable. His short experience of English politics had disgusted him; and he felt himself so much oppressed by the responsibility under which he at present lay that he had no inclination to add to the load.
When the term fixed for the prorogation had nearly expired, it became necessary to consider what course should be taken. The King and his four confidential advisers thought that a new Parliament might possibly be more manageable, and could not possibly be more refractory, than that which they now had, and they therefore determined on a dissolution. But when the question was proposed at council, the majority, jealous, it should seem, of the small directing knot, and unwilling to bear the unpopularity of the measures of Government, while excluded from all power, joined Shaftesbury, and the members of the Cabinet were left alone in the minority. The King, however, had made up his mind, and ordered the Parliament to be instantly dissolved. Temple’s council was now nothing more than an ordinary privy council, if indeed it were not something less; and, though Temple threw the blame of this on the King, on Lord Shaftesbury, on every body but himself, it is evident that the failure of his plan is to be chiefly ascribed to his own inherent defects. His council was too large to transact business which required expedition, secrecy, and cordial co-operation. A Cabinet was therefore formed within the Council. The Cabinet and the majority of the Council differed; and, as was to be expected, the Cabinet carried their point. Four votes outweighed six-and-twenty. This being the case, the meetings of the thirty were not only useless, but positively noxious.
At the ensuing election, Temple was chosen for the university of Cambridge. The only objection that was made to him by the members of that learned body was that, in his little work on Holland, he had expressed great approbation of the tolerant policy of the States; and this blemish, however serious, was overlooked, in consideration of his high reputation, and of the strong recommendations with which he was furnished by the Court.
During the summer he remained at Sheen, and amused himself with rearing melons, leaving to the three other members of the inner Cabinet the whole direction of public affairs. Some unexplained cause began, about this time, to alienate them from him. They do not appear to have been made angry by any part of his conduct, or to have disliked him personally. But they had, we suspect, taken the measure of his mind, and satisfied themselves that he was not a man for that troubled time, and that he would be a mere incumbrance to them. Living themselves for ambition, they despised his love of ease. Accustomed to deep stakes in the game of political hazard, they despised his piddling play. They looked on his cautious measures with the sort of scorn with which the gamblers at the ordinary, in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, regarded Nigel’s practice of never touching a card but when he was certain to win. He soon found that he was left out of their secrets. The King had, about this time, a dangerous attack of illness. The Duke of York, on receiving the news, returned from Holland. The sudden appearance of the detested Popish successor excited anxiety throughout the country. Temple was greatly amazed and disturbed. He hastened up to London and visited Essex, who professed to be astonished and mortified, but could not disguise a sneering smile. Temple then saw Halifax, who talked to him much about the pleasures of the country, the anxieties of office, and the vanity of all human things, but carefully avoided politics, and when the Duke’s return was mentioned, only sighed, shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and lifted up his eyes and hands. In a short time Temple found that his two friends had been laughing at him, and that they had themselves sent for the Duke, in order that his Royal Highness might, if the King should die, be on the spot to frustrate the designs of Monmouth.
He was soon convinced, by a still stronger proof, that, though he had not exactly offended his master or his colleagues in the Cabinet, he had ceased to enjoy their confidence. The result of the general election had been decidedly unfavourable to the Government; and Shaftesbury impatiently expected the day when the Houses were to meet. The King, guided by the advice of the inner Cabinet, determined on a step of the highest importance. He told the Council that he had resolved to prorogue the new Parliament for a year, and requested them not to object; for he had, he said, considered the subject fully, and had made up his mind. All who were not in the secret were thunderstruck, Temple as much as any. Several members rose, and entreated to be heard against the prorogation. But the King silenced them, and declared that his resolution was unalterable. Temple, much hurt at the manner in which both himself and the Council had been treated, spoke with great spirit. He would not, he said, disobey the King by objecting to a measure on which his Majesty was determined to hear no argument; but he would most earnestly entreat his Majesty, if the present Council was incompetent to give advice, to dissolve it and select another; for it was absurd to have counsellors who did not counsel, and who were summoned only to be silent witnesses of the acts of others. The King listened courteously. But the members of the Cabinet resented this reproof highly; and from that day Temple was almost as much estranged from them as from Shaftesbury.
He wished to retire altogether from business. But just at this time Lord Russell, Lord Cavendish, and some other counsellors of the popular party, waited on the King in a body, declared their strong disapprobation of his measures, and requested to be excused from attending any more at council. Temple feared that if, at this moment, he also were to withdraw, he might be supposed to act in concert with those decided opponents of the Court, and to have determined on taking a course hostile to the Government. He, therefore, continued to go occasionally to the board; but he had no longer any real share in the direction of public affairs.
At length the long term of the prorogation expired. In October, 1680, the Houses met; and the great question of the Exclusion was revived. Few parliamentary contests in our history appear to have called forth a greater display of talent; none certainly ever called forth more violent passions. The whole nation was convulsed by party spirit. The gentlemen of every county, the traders of every town, the boys of every public school, were divided into exclusionists and abhorrers. The book-stalls were covered with tracts on the sacredness of hereditary right, on the omnipotence of Parliament, on the dangers of a disputed succession, on the dangers of a Popish reign. It was in the midst of this ferment that Temple took his seat, for the first time, in the House of Commons.
The occasion was a very great one. His talents, his long experience of affairs, his unspotted public character, the high posts which he had filled, seemed to mark him out as a man on whom much would depend. He acted like himself. He saw that, if he supported the Exclusion, he made the King and the heir presumptive his enemies, and that, if he opposed it, he made himself an object of hatred to the unscrupulous and turbulent Shaftesbury. He neither supported nor opposed it. He quietly absented himself from the House. Nay, he took care, he tells us, never to discuss the question in any society whatever. Lawrence Hyde, afterwards Earl of Rochester, asked him why he did not attend in his place. Temple replied that he acted according to Solomon’s advice, neither to oppose the mighty, nor to go about to stop the current of a river. Hyde answered, “You are a wise and a quiet man.” And this might be true. But surely such wise and quiet men have no call to be members of Parliament in critical times.
A single session was quite enough for Temple. When the Parliament was dissolved, and another summoned at Oxford, he obtained an audience of the King, and begged to know whether his Majesty wished him to continue in Parliament. Charles, who had a singularly quick eye for the weaknesses of all who came near him, had no doubt seen through Temple, and rated the parliamentary support of so cool and guarded a friend at its proper value. He answered good-naturedly, but we suspect a little contemptuously, “I doubt, as things stand, your coming into the House will not do much good. I think you may as well let it alone.” Sir William accordingly informed his constituents that he should not again apply for their suffrages, and set off for Sheen, resolving never again to meddle with public affairs. He soon found that the King was displeased with him. Charles, indeed, in his usual easy way, protested that he was not angry, not at all. But in a few days he struck Temple’s name out of the list of Privy Counsellors. Why this was done Temple declares himself unable to comprehend. But surely it hardly required his long and extensive converse with the world to teach him that there are conjunctures when men think that all who are not with them are against them, that there are conjunctures when a lukewarm friend, who will not put himself the least out of his way, who will make no exertion, who will run no risk, is more distasteful than an enemy. Charles had hoped that the fair character of Temple would add credit to an unpopular and suspected Government. But his Majesty soon found that this fair character resembled pieces of furniture which we have seen in the drawing-rooms of very precise old ladies, and which are a great deal too white to be used. This exceeding niceness was altogether out of season. Neither party wanted a man who was afraid of taking a part, of incurring abuse, of making enemies. There were probably many good and moderate men who would have hailed the appearance of a respectable mediator. But Temple was not a mediator. He was merely a neutral.
At last, however, he had escaped from public life, and found himself at liberty to follow his favourite pursuits. His fortune was easy. He had about fifteen hundred a year, besides the Mastership of the Rolls in Ireland, an office in which he had succeeded his father, and which was then a mere sinecure for life, requiring no residence. His reputation both as a negotiator and a writer stood high. He resolved to be safe, to enjoy himself, and to let the world take its course; and he kept his resolution.
Darker times followed. The Oxford Parliament was dissolved. The Tories were triumphant. A terrible vengeance was inflicted on the chiefs of the Opposition. Temple learned in his retreat the disastrous fate of several of his old colleagues in council. Shaftesbury fled to Holland. Russell died on the scaffold. Essex added a yet sadder and more fearful story to the bloody chronicles of the Tower. Monmouth clung in agonies of supplication round the knees of the stern uncle whom he had wronged, and tasted a bitterness worse than that of death, the bitterness of knowing that he had humbled himself in vain. A tyrant trampled on the liberties and religion of the realm. The national spirit swelled high under the oppression. Disaffection spread even to the strongholds of loyalty, to the cloisters of Westminster, to the schools of Oxford, to the guard-room of the household troops, to the very hearth and bed-chamber of the Sovereign. But the troubles which agitated the whole country did not reach the quiet Orangery in which Temple loitered away several years without once seeing the smoke of London. He now and then appeared in the circle at Richmond or Windsor. But the only expressions which he is recorded to have used during these perilous times were, that he would be a good subject, but that he had done with politics.
The Revolution came: he remained strictly neutral during the short struggle; and he then transferred to the new settlement the same languid sort of loyalty which he had felt for his former masters. He paid court to William at Windsor, and William dined with him at Sheen. But, in spite of the most pressing solicitations, Temple refused to become Secretary of State. The refusal evidently proceeded only from his dislike of trouble and danger; and not, as some of his admirers would have us believe, from any scruple of conscience or honour. For he consented that his son should take the office of Secretary at War under the new Sovereign. This unfortunate young man destroyed himself within a week after his appointment, from vexation at finding that his advice had led the King into some improper steps with regard to Ireland. He seems to have inherited his father’s extreme sensibility to failure, without that singular prudence which kept his father out of all situations in which any serious failure was to be apprehended. The blow fell heavily on the family. They retired in deep dejection to Moor Park, which they now preferred to Sheen, on account of the greater distance from London. In that spot* , then very secluded, Temple passed the remainder of his life. The air agreed with him. The soil was fruitful, and well suited to an experimental farmer and gardener. The grounds were laid out with the angular regularity which Sir William had admired in the flower-beds of Haarlem and the Hague. A beautiful rivulet, flowing from the hills of Surrey, bounded the domain. But a straight canal which, bordered by a terrace, intersected the garden, was probably more admired by the lovers of the picturesque in that age. The house was small, but neat and well furnished; the neighbourhood very thinly peopled. Temple had no visiters, except a few friends who were willing to travel twenty or thirty miles in order to see him, and now and then a foreigner whom curiosity brought to have a look at the author of the Triple Alliance.
Here, in May, 1694, died Lady Temple. From the time of her marriage we know little of her, except that her letters were always greatly admired, and that she had the honour to correspond constantly with Queen Mary. Lady Giffard, who, as far as appears, had always been on the best terms with her sister-in-law, still continued to live with Sir William.
But there were other inmates of Moor Park to whom a far higher interest belongs. An eccentric, uncouth, disagreeable young Irishman, who had narrowly escaped plucking at Dublin, attended Sir William as an amanuensis, for board and twenty pounds a year, dined at the second table, wrote bad verses in praise of his employer, and made love to a very pretty, dark-eyed young girl, who waited on Lady Giffard. Little did Temple imagine that the coarse exterior of his dependent concealed a genius equally suited to politics and to letters, a genius destined to shake great kingdoms, to stir the laughter and the rage of millions, and to leave to posterity memorials which can perish only with the English language. Little did he think that the flirtation in his servants’ hall, which he perhaps scarcely deigned to make the subject of a jest, was the beginning of a long unprosperous love, which was to be as widely famed as the passion of Petrarch or of Abelard. Sir William’s secretary was Jonathan Swift. Lady Giffard’s waiting maid was poor Stella.
Swift retained no pleasing recollection of Moor Park. And we may easily suppose a situation like his to have been intolerably painful to a mind haughty, irascible, and conscious of preeminent ability. Long after, when he stood in the Court of Requests with a circle of gartered peers round him, or punned and rhymed with Cabinet Ministers over Secretary St. John’s Monte-Pulciano, he remembered, with deep and sore feeling, how miserable he used to be for days together when he suspected that Sir William had taken something ill. He could hardly believe that he, the Swift who chid the Lord Treasurer, rallied the Captain General, and confronted the pride of the Duke of Buckinghamshire with pride still more inflexible, could be the same being who had passed nights of sleepless anxiety, in musing over a cross look or a testy word of a patron. “Faith,” he wrote to Stella, with bitter levity, “Sir William spoiled a fine gentleman.” Yet, in justice to Temple, we must say that there is no reason to think that Swift was more unhappy at Moor Park than he would have been in a similar situation under any roof in England. We think also that the obligations which the mind of Swift owed to that of Temple were not inconsiderable. Every judicious reader must be struck by the peculiarities which distinguish Swift’s political tracts from all similar works produced by mere men of letters. Let any person compare, for example, the Conduct of the Allies, or the Letter to the October Club, with Johnson’s False Alarm, or Taxation no Tyranny, and he will be at once struck by the difference of which we speak. He may possibly think Johnson a greater man than Swift. He may possibly prefer Johnson’s style to Swift’s. But he will at once acknowledge that Johnson writes like a man who has never been out of his study. Swift writes like a man who has passed his whole life in the midst of public business, and to whom the most important affairs of state are as familiar as his weekly bills.
The difference, in short, between a political pamphlet by Johnson, and a political pamphlet by Swift, is as great as the difference between an account of a battle by Mr. Southey and the account of the same battle by Colonel Napier. It is impossible to doubt that the superiority of Swift is to be, in a great measure, attributed to his long and close connexion with Temple.
Indeed, remote as were the alleys and flower-pots of Moor Park from the haunts of the busy and the ambitious, Swift had ample opportunities of becoming acquainted with the hidden causes of many great events. William was in the habit of consulting Temple, and occasionally visited him. Of what passed between them very little is known. It is certain, however, that when the Triennial Bill had been carried through the two Houses, his Majesty, who was exceedingly unwilling to pass it, sent the Earl of Portland to learn Temple’s opinion. Whether Temple thought the bill in itself a good one does not appear; but he clearly saw how imprudent it must be in a prince, situated as William was, to engage in an altercation with his Parliament, and directed Swift to draw up a paper on the subject, which, however, did not convince the King.
The chief amusement of Temple’s declining years was literature. After his final retreat from business, he wrote his very agreeable Memoirs, corrected and transcribed many of his letters, and published several miscellaneous treatises, the best of which, we think, is that on Gardening. The style of his essays is, on the whole, excellent, almost always pleasing, and now and then stately and splendid. The matter is generally of much less value; as our readers will readily believe when we inform them that Mr. Courtenay, a biographer, that is to say, a literary vassal, bound by the immemorial law of his tenure to render homage, aids, reliefs, and all other customary services to his lord, avows that he cannot give an opinion about the essay on Heroic Virtue, because he cannot read it without skipping; a circumstance which strikes us as peculiarly strange, when we consider how long Mr. Courtenay was at the India Board, and how many thousand paragraphs of the copious official eloquence of the East he must have perused.
One of Sir William’s pieces, however, deserves notice, not, indeed, on account of its intrinsic merit, but on account of the light which it throws on some curious weaknesses of his character, and on account of the extraordinary effects which it produced in the republic of letters. A most idle and contemptible controversy had arisen in France touching the comparative merit of the ancient and modern writers. It was certainly not to be expected that, in that age, the question would be tried according to those large and philosophical principles of criticism which guided the judgments of Lessing and of Herder. But it might have been expected that those who undertook to decide the point would at least take the trouble to read and understand the authors on whose merits they were to pronounce. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that, among the disputants who clamoured, some for the ancients and some for the moderns, very few were decently acquainted with either ancient or modern literature, and hardly one was well acquainted with both. In Racine’s amusing preface to the Iphigénie the reader may find noticed a most ridiculous mistake into which one of the champions of the moderns fell about a passage in the Alcestis of Euripides. Another writer is so inconceivably ignorant as to blame Homer for mixing the four Greek dialects, Doric, Ionic, Æolic, and Attic, just, says he, as if a French poet, were to put Gascon phrases and Picard phrases into the midst of his pure Parisian writing. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say that the defenders of the ancients were entirely unacquainted with the greatest productions of later times; nor, indeed, were the defenders of the moderns better informed. The parallels which were instituted in the course of this dispute are inexpressibly ridiculous. Balzac was selected as the rival of Cicero. Corneille was said to unite the merits of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. We should like to see a Prometheus after Corneille’s fashion. The Provincial Letters, masterpieces undoubtedly of reasoning, wit, and eloquence, were pronounced to be superior to all the writings of Plato, Cicero, and Lucian together, particularly in the art of dialogue, an art in which, as it happens, Plato far excelled all men, and in which Pascal, great and admirable in other respects, is notoriously very deficient.
This childish controversy spread to England; and some mischievous dæmon suggested to Temple the thought of undertaking the defence of the ancients. As to his qualifications for the task, it is sufficient to say, that he knew not a word of Greek. But his vanity which, when he was engaged in the conflicts of active life and surrounded by rivals, had been kept in tolerable order by his discretion, now, when he had long lived in seclusion, and had become accustomed to regard himself as by far the first man of his circle, rendered him blind to his own deficiencies. In an evil hour he published an Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning. The style of this treatise is very good, the matter ludicrous and contemptible to the last degree. There we read how Lycurgus travelled into India, and brought the Spartan laws from that country; how Orpheus made voyages in search of knowledge, and attained to a depth of learning which has made him renowned in all succeeding ages; how Pythagoras passed twenty-two years in Egypt, and, after graduating there, spent twelve years more at Babylon, where the Magi admitted him ad eundem; how the ancient Brahmins lived two hundred years; how the earliest Greek philosophers foretold earthquakes and plagues, and put down riots by magic; and how much Ninus surpassed in abilities any of his successors on the throne of Assyria. The moderns, Sir William owns, have found out the circulation of the blood; but, on the other hand, they have quite lost the art of conjuring; nor can any modern fiddler enchant fishes, fowls, and serpents, by his performance. He tells us that “Thales, Pythagoras, Democritus, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus made greater progresses in the several empires of science than any of their successors have since been able to reach;” which is just as absurd as if he had said that the greatest names in British science are Merlin, Michael Scott, Dr. Sydenham, and Lord Bacon. Indeed, the manner in which Temple mixes the historical and the fabulous reminds us of those classical dictionaries, intended for the use of schools, in which Narcissus the lover of himself and Narcissus the freedman of Claudius, Pollux the son of Jupiter and Leda and Pollux the author of the Onomasticon, are ranged under the same headings, and treated as personages equally real. The effect of this arrangement resembles that which would be produced by a dictionary of modern names, consisting of such articles as the following: — “Jones, William, an eminent Orientalist, and one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Bengal — Davy, a fiend, who destroys ships — Thomas, a foundling, brought up by Mr. Allworthy.” It is from such sources as these that Temple seems to have learned all that he knew about the ancients. He puts the story of Orpheus between the Olympic games and the battle of Arbela; as if we had exactly the same reasons for believing that Orpheus led beasts with his lyre, which we have for believing that there were races at Pisa, or that Alexander conquered Darius.
He manages little better when he comes to the moderns. He gives us a catalogue of those whom he regards as the greatest writers of later times. It is sufficient to say that, in his list of Italians, he has omitted Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso; in his list of Spaniards, Lope and Calderon; in his list of French, Pascal, Bossuet, Molière, Corneille, Racine, and Boileau; and in his list of English, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton.
In the midst of all this vast mass of absurdity one paragraph stands out preeminent. The doctrine of Temple, not a very comfortable doctrine, is that the human race is constantly degenerating, and that the oldest books in every kind are the best. In confirmation of this notion, he remarks that the Fables of Æsop are the best Fables, and the Letters of Phalaris the best Letters in the world. On the merit of the letters of Phalaris he dwells with great warmth and with extraordinary felicity of language. Indeed we could hardly select a more favourable specimen of the graceful and easy majesty to which his style sometimes rises than this unlucky passage. He knows, he says, that some learned men, or men who pass for learned, such as Politian, have doubted the genuineness of these letters: but of such doubts he speaks with the greatest contempt. Now it is perfectly certain, first, that the letters are very bad; secondly, that they are spurious; and thirdly, that, whether they be bad or good, spurious or genuine, Temple could know nothing of the matter; inasmuch as he was no more able to construe a line of them than to decipher an Egyptian obelisk.
This Essay, silly as it is, was exceedingly well received, both in England and on the Continent. And the reason is evident. The classical scholars who saw its absurdity were generally on the side of the ancients, and were inclined rather to veil than to expose the blunders of an ally; the champions of the moderns were generally as ignorant as Temple himself; and the multitude was charmed by his flowing and melodious diction. He was doomed, however, to smart, as he well deserved, for his vanity and folly.
Christchurch at Oxford was then widely and justly celebrated as a place where the lighter parts of classical learning were cultivated with success. With the deeper mysteries of philology neither the instructors nor the pupils had the smallest acquaintance. They fancied themselves Scaligers, as Bentley scornfully said, if they could write a copy of Latin verses with only two or three small faults. From this College proceeded a new edition of the Letters of Phalaris, which were rare, and had been in request since the appearance of Temple’s Essay. The nominal editor was Charles Boyle, a young man of noble family and promising parts; but some older members of the society lent their assistance. While this work was in preparation, an idle quarrel, occasioned, it should seem, by the negligence and misrepresentations of a bookseller, arose between Boyle and the King’s Librarian, Richard Bentley. Boyle, in the preface to his edition, inserted a bitter reflection on Bentley. Bentley revenged himself by proving that the Epistles of Phalaris were forgeries, and in his remarks on this subject treated Temple, not indecently, but with no great reverence.
Temple who was quite unaccustomed to any but the most respectful usage, who, even while engaged in politics, had always shrunk from all rude collision and had generally succeeded in avoiding it, and whose sensitiveness had been increased by many years of seclusion and flattery, was moved to most violent resentment, complained, very unjustly, of Bentley’s foul-mouthed raillery, and declared that he had commenced an answer, but had laid it aside, “having no mind to enter the lists with such a mean, dull, unmannerly pedant. Whatever may be thought of the temper which Sir William showed on this occasion, we cannot too highly applaud his discretion in not finishing and publishing his answer, which would certainly have been a most extraordinary performance.
He was not, however, without defenders. Like Hector, when struck down prostrate by Ajax, he was in an instant covered by a thick crowd of shields.
Christchurch was up in arms; and though that College seems then to have been almost destitute of severe and accurate learning, no academical society could show a greater array of orators, wits, politicians, bustling adventurers who united the superficial accomplishments of the scholar with the manners and arts of the man of the world; and this formidable body resolved to try how far smart repartees, well-turned sentences, confidence, puffing, and intrigue could, on the question whether a Greek book were or were not genuine, supply the place of a little knowledge of Greek.
Out came the Reply to Bentley, bearing the name of Boyle, but in truth written by Atterbury with the assistance of Smalridge and others. A most remarkable book it is, and often reminds us of Goldsmith’s observation, that the French would be the best cooks in the world if they had any butcher’s meat; for that they can make ten dishes out of a nettle-top. It really deserves the praise, whatever that praise may be worth, of being the best book ever written by any man on the wrong side of a question of which he was profoundly ignorant. The learning of the confederacy is that of a schoolboy, and not of an extraordinary schoolboy; but it is used with the skill and address of most able, artful, and experienced men; it is beaten out to the very thinnest leaf, and is disposed in such a way as to seem ten times larger than it is. The dexterity with which the confederates avoid grappling with those parts of the subject with which they know themselves to be incompetent to deal is quite wonderful. Now and then, indeed, they commit disgraceful blunders, for which old Busby, under whom they had studied, would have whipped them all round. But this circumstance only raises our opinion of the talents which made such a fight with such scanty means. Let readers who are not acquainted with the controversy imagine a Frenchman, who has acquired just English enough to read the Spectator with a dictionary, coming forward to defend the genuineness of Ireland’s Vortigern against Malone; and they will have some notion of the feat which Atterbury had the audacity to undertake, and which, for a time, it was really thought that he had performed.
The illusion was soon dispelled. Bentley’s answer for ever settled the question, and established his claim to the first place amongst classical scholars. Nor do those do him justice who represent the controversy as a battle between wit and learning. For though there is a lamentable deficiency of learning on the side of Boyle, there is no want of wit on the side of Bentley. Other qualities, too, as valuable as either wit or learning, appear conspicuously in Bentley’s book, a rare sagacity, an unrivalled power of combination, a perfect mastery of all the weapons of logic. He was greatly indebted to the furious outcry which the misrepresentations, sarcasms, and intrigues of his opponents had raised against him, an outcry in which fashionable and political circles joined, and which was echoed by thousands who did not know whether Phalaris ruled in Sicily or in Siam. His spirit, daring even to rashness, self-confident even to negligence, and proud, even to insolent ferocity, was awed for the first and for the last time, awed, not into meanness or cowardice, but into wariness and sobriety. For once he ran no risks; he left no crevice unguarded; he wantoned in no paradoxes; above all, he returned no railing for the railing of his enemies. In almost every thing that he has written we can discover proofs of genius and learning. But it is only here that his genius and learning appear to have been constantly under the guidance of good sense and good temper. Here, we find none of that besotted reliance on his own powers and on his own luck, which he showed when he undertook to edite Milton; none of that perverted ingenuity which deforms so many of his notes on Horace; none of that disdainful carelessness by which he laid himself open to the keen and dexterous thrust of Middleton; none of that extravagant vaunting and savage scurrility by which he afterwards dishonoured his studies and his profession, and degraded himself almost to the level of De Pauw.
Temple did not live to witness the utter and irreparable defeat of his champions. He died, indeed, at a fortunate moment, just after the appearance of Boyle’s book, and while all England was laughing at the way in which the Christchurch men had handled the pedant. In Boyle’s book, Temple was praised in the highest terms, and compared to Memmius: not a very happy comparison; for almost the only particular information which we have about Memmius is that, in agitated times, he thought it his duty to attend exclusively to politics, and that his friends could not venture, except when the Republic was quiet and prosperous, to intrude on him with their philosophical and poetical productions. It is on this account that Lucretius puts up the exquisitely beautiful prayer for peace with which his poem opens:
This description is surely by no means applicable to a statesman who had, through the whole course of his life, carefully avoided exposing himself in seasons of trouble; who had repeatedly refused, in most critical conjunctures to be Secretary of State; and who now, in the midst of revolutions, plots, foreign and domestic wars, was quietly writing nonsense about the visits of Lycurgus to the Brahmins and the tunes which Arion played to the Dolphin.
We must not omit to mention that, while the controversy about Phalaris was raging, Swift, in order to show his zeal and attachment, wrote the Battle of the Books, the earliest piece in which his peculiar talents are discernible. We may observe that the bitter dislike of Bentley, bequeathed by Temple to Swift, seems to have been communicated by Swift to Pope, to Arbuthnot, and to others, who continued to tease the great critic, long after he had shaken hands very cordially both with Boyle and with Atterbury.
Sir William Temple died at Moor Park in January, 1699. He appears to have suffered no intellectual decay. His heart was buried under a sun-dial which still stands in his favourite garden. His body was laid in Westminster Abbey by the side of his wife; and a place hard by was set apart for Lady Giffard, who long survived him. Swift was his literary executor, superintended the publication of his Letters and Memoirs, and, in the performance of this office, had some acrimonious contests with the family.
Of Temple’s character little more remains to be said. Burnet accuses him of holding irreligious opinions, and corrupting every body who came near him. But the vague assertion of so rash and partial a writer as Burnet, about a man with whom, as far as we know, he never exchanged a word, is of little weight. It is, indeed, by no means improbable that Temple may have been a freethinker. The Osbornes thought him so when he was a very young man. And it is certain that a large proportion of the gentlemen of rank and fashion who made their entrance into society while the Puritan party was at the height of power, and while the memory of the reign of that party was still recent, conceived a strong disgust for all religion. The imputation was common between Temple and all the most distinguished courtiers of the age. Rochester and Buckingham were open scoffers, and Mulgrave very little better. Shaftesbury, though more guarded, was supposed to agree with them in opinion. All the three noblemen who were Temple’s colleagues during the short time of his sitting in the Cabinet were of very indifferent repute as to orthodoxy. Halifax, indeed, was generally considered as an atheist; but he solemnly denied the charge; and, indeed, the truth seems to be that he was more religiously disposed than most of the statesmen of that age, though two impulses which were unusually strong in him, a passion for ludicrous images, and a passion for subtle speculations, sometimes prompted him to talk on serious subjects in a manner which gave great and just offence. It is not unlikely that Temple, who seldom went below the surface of any question, may have been infected with the prevailing scepticism. All that we can say on the subject is that there is no trace of impiety in his works, and that the ease with which he carried his election for an university, where the majority of the voters were clergymen, though it proves nothing as to his opinions, must, we think, be considered as proving that he was not, as Burnet seems to insinuate, in the habit of talking atheism to all who came near him.
Temple, however, will scarcely carry with him any great accession of authority to the side either of religion or of infidelity. He was no profound thinker. He was merely a man of lively parts and quick observation, a man of the world among men of letters, a man of letters among men of the world. Mere scholars were dazzled by the Ambassador and Cabinet counsellor; mere politicians by the Essayist and Historian. But neither as a writer nor as a statesman can we allot to him any very high place. As a man, he seems to us to have been excessively selfish, but very sober, wary, and far-sighted in his selfishness; to have known better than most people what he really wanted in life; and to have pursued what he wanted with much more than ordinary steadiness and sagacity, never suffering himself to be drawn aside either by bad or by good feelings. It was his constitution to dread failure more than he desired success, to prefer security, comfort, repose, leisure, to the turmoil and anxiety which are inseparable from greatness; and this natural languor of mind, when contrasted with the malignant energy of the keen and restless spirits among whom his lot was cast, sometimes appears to resemble the moderation of virtue. But we must own that he seems to us to sink into littleness and meanness when we compare him, we do not say with any high ideal standard of morality, but with many of those frail men who, aiming at noble ends, but often drawn from the right path by strong passions and strong temptations, have left to posterity a doubtful and checkered fame.
[* ]“Bennet’s grave looks were a pretence” is a line in one of the best political poems of that age.
[* ]“The only good public thing that hath been done since the King came into England.” —Pepys’s Diary, February 14. 1667-8.
[* ]It has never, we believe, been remarked, that two of the most striking lines in the description of Ahithophel are borrowed from a most obscure quarter. In Knolles’s History of the Turks, printed more than sixty years before the appearance of Absalom and Ahithophel, are the following verses, under a portrait of the Sultan Mustapha the First: —
Dryden’s words are —
The circumstance is the more remarkable, because Dryden has really no couplet which would seem to a good critic more intensely Drydenian, both in thought and expression, than this, of which the whole thought, and almost the whole expression, are stolen.
[* ]Mr. Courtenay (vol. ii. p. 160.) confounds Moor Park in Surrey, where Temple resided, with the Moor Park in Hertfordshire, which is praised in the Essay on Gardening.